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Paying for content the talk of Allen & Co. conference

July 7, 2009 |  8:24 pm

IgerWalt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger wasted little time setting the tone for this year's Allen & Co. conference at Sun Valley.

Getting into his rental car after checking in at the Sun Valley Resort here, Iger held court with the press for a few minutes and declared, "People are going to pay [for] content.... we're not worried about monetizing content." Of course, Disney's ABC network started making some of its content available free on the online video site Hulu at the same time as it is joining News Corp. and NBC Universal as a co-owner.

Not surprisingly, it didn't take long for another media executive to pop up and offer a contradiction. Blake Krikorian, the co-founder of Slingbox, the device that allows people to watch their TV at home from anywhere, said the industry was "trying to put the genie back in the bottle." Another naysayer was former AOL executive Ted Leonsis, who said anyone trying to get consumers to pay for content online would be disappointed.

It is worth remembering, of course, that there was a time not too long ago when no one believed people would pay for television, and now nearly everyone subscribes to cable.

The Allen & Co. conference, which is expected to draw more than 260 executives from old and new media, politics, sports and government, kicked off today with a big welcome dinner. The real lifting won't begin until tomorrow, however, when there will be panels featuring Iger, Liberty Media Chairman John Malone and IAC Chief Executive Barry Diller discussing the digital future. On Thursday, Sony CEO Howard Stringer and General Electric Co. chief Jeff Immelt will talk about the global economic downturn. Also on Thursday, Google's Larry Page will appear on a Internet panel moderated by ABC News' Willow Bay, who is also married to Disney's Iger.

The conference also likes to bring in some special guests. This year hoops star LeBron James, who already has a relationship with Allen & Co., is expected to make an appearance. On Wednesday there was buzz that Gen. David Petraeus would be popping in on the event.

Many executives waver back and forth between schmoozing with the media and playing coy. Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin was all smiles at the front desk while askingMel for an alarm clock to be put into his room but brushed off questions about how the conference might play out. Sony's Stringer said questions about Michael Jackson's record sales were "ghoulish," although what would happen to the company's music publishing partnership with Jackson was on his mind but ultimately was "up to the lawyers."

Blake Krikorian, the Slingbox founder who was happy to riff on free Internet content, quieted down when asked about his own future. He is rumored to be a candidate to take Chase Carey's job running DirecTV. He was one of the more visible executives today in his tan shorts, blue shirt and cool shades, cruising the grounds with his wife on a bike. He wouldn't comment on any talks with the satellite broadcaster but joked that he wasn't too keen on trying to replicate Carey's legendary mustache if he were to follow him.

Dauman2 Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman also looked too cool for the room with his shades and tight pants. Meg Whitman, the former EBay chief who has been flirting with a run for governor, declined to comment on that race but later did go for a jog along the grounds.

Former super-agent Michael Ovitz is also here, and he joked that "things must be slow if you're waiting to talk to me." He did share that he does not think the merger of William Morris and Endeavor will be the last marriage between Hollywood agencies.OVITZ

If one is thirsty, there is plenty of Coca-Cola around. Allen & Co. has long ties to the soft-drink king, and there are trucks and coolers all over the place. Good luck finding a Pepsi.

-- Joe Flint

Photos: Bob Iger, from top, Mel Karmazin, Philippe Dauman and Michael Ovitz (all Matthew Staver / Bloomberg News)

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