Sun Valley hosts media magnates

ClickStar deal would open Internet access to first-run films

By MATT FURBER
Express Staff Writer
Friday, July 8, 2005

Just beyond the cordoned-off lunch tables and "Private Party" signs at the Sun Valley Lodge sit the kingpins of modern media. Ironically, no reporters are invited to the annual five-day conference hosted in July in Sun Valley by New York City investment banker Herbert Allen. Nevertheless, broadcast and print journalists stake out the annual working vacation for media CEOs and their families in hopes of a tidbit of information about potential business deals.

"It's like the G8 Summit for media," said Sallie Hofmeister, media reporter for the Los Angeles Times, in Sun Valley for the retreat that started Tuesday. The event, Allen & Co.'s the 23rd annual conference, draws the business elite, like Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates and Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner, who have each attended the event several times.

No official list of attendees is published. Michael Stapleton Associates, an explosives-detection security company designated and certified by the Department of Homeland Security to provide anti-terrorism technologies, provides security together with local law enforcement officials and various subcontractors.

Other conference attendees this year include media mogul Rupert Murdoch; computer tycoon Michael Dell; NBA Commissioner David Stern; Disney CEO-elect Bob Iger; Nike chairman Phil Knight; and investor extraordinaire Warren Buffett. The venue offers the prominent media and technology executives a private opportunity to enjoy Rocky Mountain hospitality.

At an opening address to the weeklong conference, U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, of New Jersey, introduced Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who gave a talk about Islam in Turkey and answered questions on Islam, democracy, globalization and peace.

"It's not Islam's fault to be instrumentalized for terror by some groups," Erdogan said, interrupted by a technical problem during simultaneous translation. Ultimately, the attendees listened to a human interpreter after the technical problem persisted.

"Technology is very important and beneficial, yet as you now observe we may from time to time be disrupted by it. Does this show that technology is useless?" Erdogan joked, bringing laughter from the technology-oriented audience, clearly enjoying insights about the face of Islam in Turkey.

A technology deal announced Wednesday at Sun Valley Resort joins actor Morgan Freeman's production company with Intel Corp. in a new venture to distribute first-run movies to consumers over the Internet even before the films become available on DVD.

The new digital entertainment company to be launched next year is called ClickStar Inc., formed by Revelations Entertainment, a company Freeman created in 1996 with producer Lori McCreary.

The partners are investing undisclosed sums in the venture, which will be headed by former Sony Pictures executive Nizar Allibhoy, who will serve as ClickStar's CEO.

"What we're setting up is a distribution platform strictly for the dissemination of film content," said Freeman, who will consult for the company. "It's probably later on that the studios might adopt it as a model and improve on it."

Under the conventional distribution system, movies come out on DVD before they are offered to online movie rental services. In addition, ClickStar will provide users access to Internet-only channels created by artists or other content owners.

Freeman said his deal with Intel should avoid the piracy pitfall by giving customers a "simple, easy and attractive" alternative to piracy.

"We're going to bypass what the music industry had to come up with, and that's to get ahead of the whole piracy thing," he said.

Major business deals are generally expected at the annual conference. At the 1996 conference, Walt Disney Co. executives brokered a deal to acquire Capital Cities/ABC.

CEOs and their families will continue to enjoy vacation activities through the weekend. At the lodge, red notebooks list activities from shooting skeet to bridge or golf. River rafting, hiking and cycling are also some of the options lending opportunities for media leaders to talk business and enjoy high summer in Idaho.

Children are invited to attend, and are looked after by a small army of babysitters and entertained with hayrides, bowling parties, movies and the like.

Local residents who help conduct the smooth-running event are asked not to speak to the press, but many share how the work adds to their own bottom line while living in the resort community. Some have worked for the event since its inception in 1982.

Allen & Co. spends an estimated $20 million or so on the event, pumping millions of dollars into the local economy. The conference has become a key component to the success of Sun Valley Resort and many smaller businesses in the Wood River Valley.

The Associated Press and correspondent Ekrem Dumanli of Turkey contributed to this story.

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