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Retreat serves as incubator for idea | Forecast by Guest List

July 2006

It should be an idyllic setting this week when a clique of media and technology tycoons convenes for an annual retreat amid the summer splendor of Idaho’s mountains.

But the facade of tranquility will do little to conceal the friction bristling beneath the surface of the five–day summit.

The host, investment banker Herb Allen, has compiled a guest list that consists mostly of executives trying to protect their own turf while they invade new markets to reach an increasingly fragmented and fickle audiences.

This high–stakes battle pits long–entrenched media such as newspapers, broadcasters, movie studios and recording labels against high–tech trailblazers using the Internet to redirect the flow of information, entertainment and, ultimately, money.

One recent battle casualty won’t be there. Knight Ridder Inc. CEO Tony Ridder isn’t on the guest list. The nation’s second–largest newspaper chain was sold last month to McClatchy Co. after shareholders expressed doubts about Knight Ridder’s ability to compete as more advertising shifts to the Web.

"I wish we had invented Google," Ridder said.

Ridder isn’t on the guest list, but Google’s founders are. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, a pair of graduate program dropouts from Stanford University, are among the billionaires expected to attend this week’s powwow at an exclusive resort in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Just seven years after they launched Google in a Silicon Valley garage, the online search engine leader boasted $6.1 billion in revenue last year twice that of Knight Ridder.

The yin and yang of Google and Knight Ridder is what drives the conference Allen has been hosting since 1983.

"There are most definitely old–line media companies that are closer to what Knight Ridder was doing than to Google has been doing," said Ken Marlin, an investment banker specializing in media and technology.

"If they can’t recapture some of the revenue they have been losing or find different revenue models, they are not likely to see Herb Allen’s fete five years from now."

More than 230 movers and shakers are expected to be on hand for this year’s confab, including perennials such as stock market sage Warren Buffett and intriguing newcomers such as 29–year–old Chad Hurley of YouTube Inc., an Internet video sharing site.

The conference mixes a little bit of business with a whole lot of pleasure. There’s golfing, playing tennis, horseback riding, rafting, fishing, skeet shooting, playing bridge, practicing yoga and even ice skating.

And if they want to talk sports, Major League Commissioner Bud Selig, National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern are supposed to be there.

Behind those frolicking scenes, though, the germs of future deals can incubate. Leveraged buyout king Henry Kravis and merger adviser Martin Lipton are supposed to be there.

Ted Turner was inspired to expand into Hollywood at one of Allen’s get–togethers a few years earlier. According to conference lore, then–Disney CEO Michael Eisner first got the idea for the company’s 1996 acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC while he was meandering around Sun Valley.

The media barons scheduled to attend include News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, Time Warner Inc. CEO Richard Parsons, Walt Disney Co. CEO Robert Iger, Sony Corp. CEO Howard Stringer, Warner Music Group CEO Edgar Bronfman, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, Washington Post Co. CEO Donald Graham, Reuters Group CEO Thomas Glocer and E.W. Scripps Co. CEO Kenneth Lowe.

In addition to Google’s Page and Brin, the technology gurus expected to roam the resort include Yahoo Inc. CEO Terry Semel, Dell Inc. founder Michael Dell, Intel Corp. Chairman Craig Barrett, eBay Inc. CEO Meg Whitman and Amazon.com Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos.

Microsoft Corp. also figures to cast a long shadow in Idaho, although founder Bill Gates, who recently said he will phase himself out of daily operations, isn’t scheduled to be there as he has in past years. The world’s largest software maker will be represented by its chief research officer and the head of its entertainment and devices division instead.

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