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How Sun Valley is Jumpstarting a Mad Scramble for Media Content

As for the next round of M&A, Savar argues that consolidation among distributors has likely peaked, explaining that it will be a while before we see more of the "big boys merging." In the meantime, speculation abounds as to consolidation among content companies. 

Twenty-First Century Fox (FOXA) CEO Rupert Murdoch is said to be in discussions to sell channel Sky Italia as well as its Sky Deutschland subsidiary in a deal which could pull in as much as $13 billion. The company could then reinvest that money in a potential bid for Time Warner (TWX), a company with a $63 billion market cap, which counts CNN and HBO among its properties. Both Murdoch and Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes are in attendance of the conference.

Scripps Networks, Lionsgate (LGF), AMC Networks (AMCX) and Discovery Communications (DISCA) have also been discussed as potential acquisition targets: strong companies with well-known branded content and tantalizingly independent. In the case of Discovery, the company is allegedly angling for an acquisition of Scripps even as The Walt Disney Company (DIS) makes Discovery itself a potential target.

Though content consolidation rumors run rampant, Barclays notes consolidation in the field won't give programmers the kind of power or change the industry in the same way the distribution acquisitions will (once federal regulators approve, of course).

"Although we believe that some content providers over the longer term will likely have to consolidate to get the scale advantage vis a vis the distributors, we think that horizontal consolidation is unlikely to provide the same benefit to content providers as the distributors," noted Venkateshwar.

A better option would be vertical consolidation, a merger between content providers and distributors to gain greater control of every step of the content production and delivery process.

"While the distributors would benefit from the ability to control content costs better, the content producers would benefit from the ability to gain seamless distribution across platforms without the contractual friction that arises from the way programming rights are split up," Venkateshwar wrote.

The winners will be those executives who can envision where their company will be ten, twenty, thirty years in the future. Unfortunately, with rapid technological change shaping the industry, many are uncertain of how the industry will look even by mid-decade.

"This is a top five industry in terms of technological disruption and changing relationships. It is transforming so fast," noted Wilson. "Industry insiders have no idea what's going to happen."

That goes, too, for the outcome of Sun Valley, the exclusive event well-known for its discretion. Time will tell which of those handshakes made at the week-long event will make headlines in the coming weeks.

--Written by Keris Alison Lahiff in New York.

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