NEW YORK They normally ponder ways to entertain Americans, but media chiefs this week entertained more somber thoughts about the future of the United States, as several saw a fading superpower hobbled by the recession.
Speaking at the Reuters Global Media Summit, industry veteran Barry Diller worried about the future of the U.S. as a "force for good," while satellite radio chief Mel Karmazin expressed concern about the lack of focus on job creation.
As heads of media and entertainment companies, the executives who visited the Summit take a keen interest in the public's mood during this recession, and some of them shape how events are discussed on airwaves and the Web.
"My greatest worry is where this country will be 10 to 20 years from now, whether we will able to be strong and influential," said Diller, chief executive of Internet media company IAC/InterActiveCorp (IACI.O), and a former Hollywood studio chief.
"Certainly in the 20th century, you can't imagine a greater force for good than the United States... The best example is the Marshall Plan, rebuilding Europe," he said, referring to the $13 billion U.S. investment project after World War Two to rebuild Europe's shattered economic infrastructure. "I'm very concerned."
Gary Bettman, commissioner of the National Hockey League, has similar apprehensions about the United States.
"It's our standing in the world as a superpower, both from an economic and a political standpoint," he said. "There are questions about the strength of the dollar long-term and what that will do to our economy here in North America."
With many Americans split over whether to put faith in government or the private sector, executives say they have seen the public grow more uncertain and politically divided.
Glenn Britt, CEO of Time Warner Cable TWC.N, said, "We're as a society a little bit at sea about who to trust and what institutions to trust."
Nikesh Arora, president of global sales operations and business development for Google Inc (GOOG.O), offered a different perspective than many of the U.S.-born executives.
Arora said the rise of his native India and also China is fast creating "multiple parts of the world that are economically more relevant, so we'll have to figure out a better partnership model around the world."
U.S. gross domestic product increased only 1.1 percent last year to $14.2 trillion, while China's economy expanded 9 percent to $4.3 trillion and India went up 7 percent to $1.2 trillion, according to the World Bank.
America's 10-percent unemployment rate was a top concern to Anne Sweeney, Walt Disney Co's (DIS.N) president of Disney-ABC Television Group, Brian Farrell, CEO of video game maker THQ Inc THQI.O and other executives.
Mel Karmazin, CEO of Sirius XM Radio Inc (SIRI.O) said, "If you take a look at how much focus there's been on this healthcare issue, I would have liked to have seen it be focused on employment."
Hilary Schneider, executive vice president of Yahoo Inc's (YHOO.O) North American division, said public moods vary by geography in the United States.
"The past year, I would feel really happy when I got on the plane to go back West again, because while there was a recession, there was a lot more optimism associated with the way we worked through it, and in New York it was much darker," she said.
Mark Pincus, CEO of privately held video game maker Zynga, is another West Coast executive, and he described himself as plain upbeat about the United States.
"When you look back at this time in history we'll realize that we were in the middle of one of the greatest sustained economic growth driven by worker productivity in the history of the world," he said. "I think we'll see this whole recession as a minor blip that won't even show up on a broader index chart.
"My biggest concern is that we overcompensate out of fear for downside, and we bring too much government, too much regulation, too much taxes, and we don't as a country double down and bet on the future," he added
(For summit blog: blogs.reuters.com/summits/)
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Ben Klayman, editing by Tiffany Wu and Derek Caney)