Sun Valley: Ken Auletta paints it, black

July 8, 2009

Allen & Co’s Sun Valley media and technology conference forbids journalists from attending the morning sessions that executives and other media power players attend before they go out to play and talk about deals in the afternoon. That means the last, best hope they have is to get the low-down from a journalist who was invited.

There’s no pride in it, but at least you hear what happened from a reliable source.

In this case, that’s Ken Auletta, New Yorker media writer and author of several books about the media business. He moderated a panel about surviving in the digital age.

The answer? No answer, Auletta said.

Among the big minds pondering the issue were IAC/InterActiveCorp CEO Barry Diller, Walt Disney CEO Robert Iger (who on Tuesday told reporters that he’s not worried about how to get people to pay for content) and Liberty Media Chairman John Malone.

Questions asked at the session, Auletta said: How do you “monetize” on the Web? Can you? Is your “brand” an advantage?

Twitter, which is one of the media-anointed darlings of this year’s session, was also up for discussion, Auletta said. According to him, Diller said he was pessimistic about Twitter’s chances of making money. Auletta quoted Diller as saying it’s about “how to advertise in a way that doesn’t feel like an interruption.”

Interestingly, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams was in the audience at the session, Auletta said.
In keeping with the spirit of gloom and economic recession hanging over the 27th year of the Sun Valley conference, Auletta also told reporters about a session on finance hosted by CNBC anchorwoman Erin Burnett. The mood? Glum as well, he said.

Who was the most bearish guest there? Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, Chairman and CEO of WL Ross & Co. Does that mean asset values are improving, leaving Ross fewer banks and other distressed properties to chase? Or is he just reflecting the spirit of the age?

Judging by the tenor of the conversations at this conference, it’s the latter.

(Photo: Ken Auletta, via Reuters)

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