| SUN VALLEY, Idaho
SUN VALLEY, Idaho Barack Obama appears to be
the favorite White House contender among media moguls at an
annual Idaho retreat, even if they remain uncertain how a
victory by the Illinois Democrat would affect their businesses.
With a slumping U.S. economy, weak media stock prices and a
host of challenges facing the entertainment industry, many
executives at the investment bank-hosted confab in Sun Valley
expected a change in Washington.
Even News Corp Chief Rupert Murdoch, who has backed the
Republican Party in the past few years but has predicted a
Democratic landslide, was impressed by Obama after spending an
hour with him.
"There's a sliver of hope that America could be great under
Obama," he told reporters on Thursday evening. "I got to meet
him for an hour and I'm seduced."
"But I like (Republican presidential candidate John) McCain
too," said Murdoch, who has not officially endorsed a
Sony Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Howard Stringer
told Reuters he expected Obama to win but, when asked if Obama
would be good for business, the Wales-born U.S. citizen was
"I don't know what's good for business, with the oil
crisis, food crisis...," Stringer said.
Conference host Allen & Co passed around a faux ballot box
for attendees, many from Hollywood and already backing Obama,
such as DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Katzenberg, director Steven Spielberg and his Dreamworks
movie studio partner, David Geffen, are organizing an Obama
fundraiser. Geffen and Spielberg were not at the conference.
"Generally, the entertainment business has leaned
Democratic but even these days you see a lot of Republicans
looking for change," said former Viacom Inc CEO Tom Freston,
principle of Firefly3. "The mood of the country seems to be 80
percent in one direction, not happy with the status quo."
"By and large, the Republican approach is staring up a hill
as steep as one can imagine," said another prominent attendee,
who did not want to be identified.
But he was also not sure if an Obama administration would
be good for media companies. Democrats tend to take a tougher
stance on industry regulation, such as antitrust approvals for
major mergers. "I'm not a believer that higher taxes are good
for business," he said.
NET NEUTRALITY DEBATE
A big issue for the media and telecommunications industries
that the next administration will likely have to address is the
heated debate on a policy issue known as "network neutrality."
Kevin Martin, appointed by President George W. Bush to head
the Federal Communications Commission, is exploring whether
rules are needed to prevent Internet service providers from
blocking or slowing the flow of content over their networks.
The issue has gained attention since Comcast Corp was found
to be delaying traffic of some video files between Internet
Such rules would address concerns that cable and phone
companies would become de facto Internet gatekeepers and could
slow services that threaten their businesses or partners.
But Hollywood studios and other content providers tend to
oppose so-called net-neutrality rules, saying they would
eliminate a potential tool for fighting online piracy.
Mario Gabelli, chief investment officer for GAMCO Investors
Inc, a huge media investment firm, declined to say who he
supported in the election, but said the vote would have huge
ramifications for media.
"I'm just watching who is going to head up the Federal
Communications Commission," he said. "Look at the example of
who President Bush put in, a Republican, and they've had the
"Net neutrality makes no sense. You have to maintain a
highway and the owners of that highway need to move traffic one
way or another. I don't want someone who is a bandwidth hog
controlling my access," Gabelli said, noting he has clients on
both sides of the debate.
(Additional reporting by Kenneth Li)