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Annual mogul fest draws media friends and foes
Invitation-only summer retreat for corporate titans kicks off with a group of executives unlikely to rub shoulders at other conferences.

SUN VALLEY -- Nowhere is the blurring of distinctions between industries more apparent than in the guest list of an exclusive, invitation-only summer retreat for corporate titans in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Conceived in the early 1980s by banker Herbert Allen as a week-long mingling of Hollywood's elite, the 24th annual gathering kicks off this week with a group of executives unlikely to rub shoulders at other conferences.

The informal event, which begins with presentations Wednesday on topics ranging from healthcare to dependence on oil, was once dominated by media industry chatter.

But this year's guest list suggests the topic du jour will likely be as much about osmosis - as unrelated businesses double up as media companies - as it will be about the fresh onslaught of new, disruptive Silicon Valley technologies that have become a fact of life for traditional media players.

The gathering will bring together the likes of Coca-Cola (Charts) Chief Executive Neville Isdell and Nike (Charts) Chairman Philip Knight with conference veterans Time Warner (Charts) CEO Richard Parsons, Viacom (Charts) Chairman Sumner Redstone and News Corp. (Charts) Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch.

Internet company executives like Yahoo's Terry Semel and Jerry Yang, and Google (Charts) founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are also expected to attend the event, organized by investment bank Allen & Co.

"Convergence is finally upon us," Blake Krikorian, chief executive of media gadget maker Sling Media, told Reuters on the sidelines of the meeting.

"People are recognizing that it's not old media versus new media - we're talking about the same consumer," he said.

Media companies are struggling to keep up with younger viewers, who are as likely to watch a big budget movie as they are to download from the Web a homemade film put together by two kids with a digital camcorder.

Online ad campaigns, which now employ elaborate storylines, digital video and video games, have made marketers like Coke as entertainment-focused as Viacom's MTV, media observers say.

Wal-Mart Stores's in-store television network now reaches about 150 million shoppers - an audience tracked by TV measurement company Nielsen, according to Wal-Mart's Web site. Lee Scott, Wal-Mart's CEO, is expected to attend.

"Everyone's a distributor," said Jim Wiatt, chief executive officer of Hollywood talent agency William Morris.

Meanwhile, Time Warner, which is sending its top two officials, aims to figure out how to transform AOL to compete against Yahoo, Google and a fresh crop of Web companies. It is set to discuss the online unit's future with Wall Street on Aug. 2.

AOL, once the king of online services, also faces new threats from News Corp.'s online teen hangout MySpace.com and a set of startups and newcomers to Sun Valley that do what great ideas often do - rattle incumbents.

First-time attendees include Chad Hurley, CEO of YouTube, a Web site that lets people post their favorite videos; Nick Grouf, founder of startup Spot Runner, an Internet company that helps the average person create and buy advertising spots on TV; and Martin Varsavsky, founder of FON, which lets users share WiFi connections.

In between presentations, corporate chiefs will stroll the tranquil resort grounds beneath Bald Mountain, where chance meetings and rafting trips have turned into full-fledged business deals, according to conference lore.

In 1995, the then Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner first held discussions with CapCities/ABC at the event that led to a merger a few weeks later. A year after that, Murdoch's talks with billionaire investor Ron Perelman led to the sale of New World Communications to News Corp.

 

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