Valley of the moguls

Swan smallerThey call it the Duck Pond, but it’s actually teaming with (vicious) swans. It’s considered a big media and tech powwow, but a broad swath of global corporate titans of finance and politics round out the guest list.

It’s the 26th annual Allen & Co Sun Valley conference, where high-wattage huddles transpiring on the tranquil resort grounds among stunningly rich business people swathed in questionable leisure wear could end up in big deals months from now. The legend springs from the track record: AOL and Time Warner, Walt Disney and CapCities/ABC, Google and YouTube are all said to have gotten started here.

In between knitting (!), yoga, white-water rafting and golfing, and bridge (!) games execs like Google’s trio Eric Schmidt, Larry Page and Sergey Brin mix it up Disney’s Bob Iger, Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes and News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch.

Although the mood this year is decidedly somber as the deteriorating U.S. economy weighs heavily on the minds of moguls, deal chatter persists and will likely center on what AllthingsD’s Kara Swisher likens to the Godfather-like meeting of the five families — the drama over who’s going to link up, buy, merge, strikes with whom playing out between Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Time Warner and News Corp.

In particular, Yahoo’s Jerry Yang and Sue Decker are under the hotlights again after billionaire investor and career agitator Carl Icahn fired another salvo on Monday urging shareholders to join his campaign to wipe clean the board slate and pave a way towards a deal with Microsoft. Microsoft’s backing Icahn, it seems. The software maker is open to pursuing a deal to buy all or part of Yahoo — only if a new board is elected.

A primer on Bill Gates

gates1.jpgOh, by the way, you may have missed it, but today is Bill Gates’ last day on the job at Microsoft. 

For good reason, there has been no shortage of coverage today with reporters covering every angle of the story.

A good deal of the writing has focussed on Gates’ legacy over the three decades he ran Microsoft.

Deck shuffling at The Wall Street Journal

wall-street-journal.jpgThe rap on The Wall Street Journal, especially among those who get edited for a living there, is that the editing process could use a little streamlining. It looks like that’s about to happen, judging by Thursday’s memo from top editor Robert Thomson. This is part of a series of personnel changes taking place at the Journal since News Corp bought Dow Jones last year, including the resignations of top editor Marcus Brauchli and top U.S. editor Bill Grueskin:

I am pleased to announce significant changes to the editorial leadership of The Wall Street Journal, changes which will expedite decision-making and give increased authority and responsibility to reporters and bureau chiefs. These changes will take place in tandem with the creation of a central news desk that will allow significantly enhanced co-operation between print, web and Newswires journalists, in New York and around the world. At the heart of our new structure will be a National, International and Enterprise Team, a triumvirate which will report directly to me and to whom the bureau chiefs will report.

Here are the moves among the most senior editors, effective next month:

- Matt Murray, general news editor, becomes national editor.

- Nikhil Deogun, Money & Investing section editor, becomes international editor.

Attention shoppers: Madison Ave. thanks you

walmart.jpgMadison Avenue should breathe a sigh of relief, thanks to the retail sector. Big U.S. retailers posted slightly better-than-expected sales last month, which may give them confidence to keep their advertising budgets intact.

Like everyone else, advertising executives have watched the economy, falter a development that could threatens to crimp marketing spending. By and large, admen say, spending had held steady, with some weakness in financial services and other areas.

But Madison Avenue is hardly in the clear — just look at the mounting troubles in the auto industry, which has banked on SUV sales, as evidenced by General Motors’ announcement earlier this week about plant closures and job cuts.

Murdoch kills Newsday bid

murdoch-frowns.jpgWhen Rupert Murdoch said the other day that he wasn’t investing in newspapers anymore, we assumed that he was being ironic, especially as it came in the same telephone conference call with News Corp analysts and reporters in which he said that he thought his agreement to buy Newsday from Tribune Co was all but sewn up .

That goes to show you what they say about assuming things.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday , and we subsequently confirmed , that News Corp isn’t going to chase Newsday after all. Instead, it’s pulling its $580 million bid, paving the way for Cablevision to likely take over its fellow Long Island media outlet. New York Daily News owner Mortimer Zuckerman is in the race still as far as we know, but it’s hard to see how Tribune will take his $580 million bid when Cablevision has a $70 million sweetener on top of that.

Why? Apparently the economics were unjustifiable. What could that mean? The short list: Tribune’s quarterly financial results, which came out late Friday, show the company continuing to lose advertising revenue at its newspapers; media ownership laws might make it tough for Murdoch to take the paper yet keep his New York-area television broadcast licenses; and finally, a bid higher than $650 million is already a higher valuation for a newspaper than most sensible financial folks see as feasible.

Flying blind into the upfronts?

drone.jpgOne thing you can bank on next week is that the TV networks won’t be showing off dazzling pilots of new shows at the upfronts, as we highlighted in a preview.

Executives have made no secret of the fact that pilots are costly, and, it seems, not all that useful. Already, NBC previewed their season with little more than a few very, very short clips. CBS, ABC and Fox aren’t expected to offer a whole lot more.

So what do advertising buyers think of this brave new world without pilots? Are they and their clients comfortable shelling out big bucks without seeing a full episode of a new comedy or drama.

Microsoft-Yahoo: Google ‘hearts’ Yahoo’s search ads

schmidt.jpgAs the Microsoft-Yahoo will-they-won’t-they? saga drags on, Google’s role in any future talks becomes more apparent.

On Thursday Google CEO Eric Schmidt said a two-week trial selling search advertisements on rival Yahoo last month had given the companies good reason to discuss cooperation, but there was no deal yet.

That isn’t great news for some in the online advertising world.  As commentators have pointed out, a Google-Yahoo partnership (Yahoogle? Yoogle? Gahoo?) could concentrate too much power with just one team. This has led to some folk to paint Microsoft as the little guy. Yes, the same Microsoft, which is a Monopoly 101 case study for first-year economics college students.

Murdoch: We’re not investing in newspapers!

murdoch-press.jpgFor a mogul who’s spent a lifetime snatching up newspapers across the globe — and who spent the better part of his time talking about them on Wednesday’s quarterly earnings conference call — we found it surprising that he insists he’s not spending more money on the dying print business.

Murdoch: “From day one, the financial press has been fixated on portraying this move as a change in strategic direction; the company is now focused on allocating more of its capital on print businesses. That is not our intent, nor is it factually correct. We have not changed our playbook.”

Murdoch argued that Dow Jones, the splashiest of his newspaper buys yet, is barely a newspaper publisher at all. To lay out that argument, Murdoch appears to have abandoned his earlier argument that a free Wall Street Journal online would be better than a subscription-based site.

Microsoft: A Thousand Times No

And it was thus decreed that the messengers of Steve Ballmer were sent far across the land to say No to an alliance with the kingdom of Yahoo:
“Yahoo could always come back again and say please buy us for $33 (a share) and I’m sure we might reconsider it, but we’re not assuming that’s going to happen,” Microsoft Chief Research and Strategy Office Craig Mundie to Reuters in Jakarta, May 8. 

“The conclusion was reached that we should pursue our independent path,” Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates in Tokyo, May 7.    
“The key decisions on that will be made by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who took a look at Yahoo and decided that, on our own, he likes the stuff that we’re doing,” Gates in Seoul, May 6.

“We decided to move on and basically withdraw our offer …. Absolutely, that’s the end of the story. We are moving on because our strategy is very clear,” Microsoft International President Jean-Philippe Courtois to Reuters in London, May 6.

Ballmer seals all Yahoo exits

ballmer-gestures.jpgMicrosoft dumped its offer to buy Yahoo on Saturday. A closer reading of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s letter to Yahoo’s Jerry Yang shows Microsoft is content to do nothing less than choke the air supply out of Yahoo’s trachea.

Consider these sweet bon mots in Ballmer’s letter, which is also a thinly veiled salvo at Google:

We regard with particular concern your apparent planning to respond to a “hostile” bid by pursuing a new arrangement that would involve or lead to the outsourcing to Google of key paid Internet search terms offered by Yahoo! today. In our view, such an arrangement with the dominant search provider would make an acquisition of Yahoo! undesirable to us for a number of reasons: