Herb Allen’s Sun Valley Conference – 2013
I’m sure the planners of these conferences (not just Herb Allen’s but corporate offsites the world over) always dream great things will happen – that an idea will emerge that changes the world; that partnerships will form to create new and better companies… such wasted optimism.
And at the beginning of the week, most attendees seem to go along with the party line (drinking the Kool-aid and vodka, if you will).
And even though I have been cynical from the beginning (read every Day 1 post I’ve ever had from previous conferences (2009 – 2010 – 2011 – 2012 – and 2013) – deep down there is a slight tinge of hope that this might be worth my time.
But then the week drags on – and we drink at the bar late at night – have a hangover breakfast with lots of greasy meats – go to some mindless panel about how important content, sports and new distribution platforms are in all our lives – play golf – get drunk – eat wedding caliber food – get drunk some more (repeat repeat repeat)…
Maybe it’s because most of the attendees (like me) are so old and set in our ways.
Perhaps the new ideas will come from the Herb Allen III conference in Phoenix next year (because Herb Allen III is younger!) that focuses on new media… younger moguls, newer, fresher ideas (based on older, staler ideas) – a new energy that everyone seems to need.
The biggest problem with Herb Allen’s Sun Valley Conference is the new moguls all try to act like old moguls – try to hang with the heavy scotch drinkers and cigar smokers, try to wear the Polo shirts that only an old mogul can look right in… it’s not easy to be an old mogul and actually look like an old mogul.
Out of the millions of stiff, awkward middle managers in media companies around the world only one or at most two will rise to become a true mogul (i.e., Ben Silverman will never be a mogul – try though he may; and the jury is definitely still out on Thomas Tull who is attempting to buy his way into moguldom).
You can’t fake it. It has to be organic.
I was originally title Day 3 – “China” – because there was a huge focus today on China opportunities and how do media companies (and businesses in general) crack that Chinese nut?
First of all, you can’t (there’s that cynicism again!). But it’s absolutely true.
To get the scale in China that companies need would require being able to grow our businesses into significant businesses. Just making a few bucks here and there and having a movie work every once in a while isn’t going to cut it. We need to have a significant presence in China to make it worth all this effort.
And as soon as a foreign company gets a significant presence in China – the Chinese government will dial you back. They may not kick you out but they may decide not to distribute your movie for “censorship issues,” or not to release your new handset because of “environmental reasons”(ridiculous, right?) or not offer your content in a streaming service due to some other excuse that the government won’t even attempt to make creative or fair.
I led a panel this morning on “How To Properly Bribe Chinese Officials.” I’ve written on this in the past – and have learned over the years you can actually get a lot more accomplished by offering bottles of Slivovitz and cartons of American cigarettes than by offering cash or personal favors (i.e., helping to get a Chinese government official’s kid get into Harvard, etc.)
We just have to be realistic about China. It’s fine if your expectations are low and you are okay with having a small business and making a little bit of money or using the cheap labor to build your toys and American flags. But for distributing content and for growing a huge, profitable business – China sucks and will always suck.
The only excitement left at this year’s conference (and wasn’t Building-A-Bike and a nauseous river raft ride enough excitement for one person) is tomorrow’s media panel with Rupert Murdoch, John Malone and Barry Diller (the same team from yesterday’s disastrous “Build-A-Bike” exercise).
Watching three guys who really hate each other attempting to be cordial (while offering nothing new) should be truly entertaining.
Or not at all. That’s the problem – just when you think maybe something will come out of the conference, nothing does.
Outside of that, the drunkening continues.
I have now been forced to make my own drinks because Vin Tran has had some sort of breakdown and can barely function (he talks often about bringing shame to his family).
There is a rumor the great Bin Tran will triumphantly return for the final night of the conference since his daughter gave birth yesterday (congratulations, Bin – never go away again).