2010's Sun Valley Media Retreat Belongs to Steve Jobs -- Even if He's Not There

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs

Sun Valley, Idaho, is about to be deluged by iPad-toting media moguls.

Boutique investment bank Allen & Co.'s exclusive annual retreat at the luxury ski-mecca mountain resort usually features a singular young belle of the ball, typically the CEO of the latest hot Internet start-up. It's a role that YouTube CEO Chad Hurley, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Evan Williams have played in the past.

The star of this year's confab, however, may not attend in person, but his impact will be felt throughout the mountain resort. Although Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs is on the guest list, he isn't expected to participate. That doesn't mean his power won't radiate throughout the event as the media execs confront a digital landscape on the brink of a mobile gold rush.

This year, Allen & Co.'s media mogul "Summer Camp" will include Disney (DIS) CEO Bob Iger, Viacom (VIA) chief Phillippe Dauman, News Corp. (NWS) boss Rupert Murdoch and Barry Diller, chief executive of IAC/InterActiveCorp (IACI). Facebook CEO Zuckerberg and his deputy Sheryl Sandberg are also slated to attend. Representatives from Google (GOOG) will be present as well.

Indian Summer for Old Media?

The Sun Valley media executives will be attended by hundreds of would-be machers and hangers-on who take over the ski town annually. Media reporters will also try to crack into the private event, from which Allen & Co. barred journalists years ago. But readers can expect dribbles of gossip. The leisure-oriented moguls and their families will chat about Apple, Google, content pay-walls and the fate of ABC, the news and entertainment network that Disney is said to be shopping.

This year's watchword is "mobile," as media chieftains work to adapt old-school channels like print and cable TV into portable, Web-based products like the iPad. Since the iPad's launch, established media companies like Conde Nast, Dow Jones (owned by Murdoch's News Corp.) and The New York Times Co. have been racing to develop iPad products.

As the stock market closes out a dismal second quarter, Apple will certainly be celebrated amid a generally abysmal climate for media and tech companies looking to emerge from a terrible recession and structural media realignment. Between river rafting and rock climbing, the moguls will also discuss Comcast's (CMCSA) impending takeover of NBC Universal, which would combine the NBC content factory with Comcast's industry-leading cable network. Government regulators are expected to approve that deal.

Stratospheric Popularity

But the presence -- or lack thereof -- of Apple's iconic leader will hover in the rarified Sun Valley air.

Jobs, under whose leadership Apple has surpassed erstwhile rival Microsoft in market value, is possibly the most famous and revered corporate executive on the planet. Jobs was already a legendary figure on the national business scene, but his latest exploits -- along with his apparently successful comeback from cancer -- have thrust him into the stratosphere.

With the wildly successful iPad and iPhone 4 launches, Jobs has consolidated a position as powerful gatekeeper for millions of consumers who use iOS, the operating system and e-commerce platform that powers both devices.

Apple's iPhone App Store has also emerged as the breakthrough leader in the nascent battle for mobile applications supremacy. Jobs's key insight was opening up the iPhone platform to developers -- who have now created over 200,000 apps -- even though Apple's occasionally restrictive App Store policies have alienated some programmers.

In the wisp of campfire smoke or the anticipation of the river's next turn, the Apple CEO will permeate the Sun Valley proceedings one way or another. Mogul campers can rest in their sleeping bags knowing that even if he isn't there in person, Steve Jobs is watching.