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Schmoozing and Frolicking in the Mountains

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Times Staff Writer

Here’s a collection of snapshots, potshots and words from a few hotshots attending the 21st annual Allen & Co. conference, a gathering of media moguls and other business leaders that ended here late Saturday:

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Malone’s the Favorite

Bets are on cable mogul John Malone.

The chairman of Liberty Media Corp. recently struck a mega-deal, plunking down $7.9 billion to control QVC, the hugely profitable home shopping cable network best known for selling flashy fake diamonds. Few think Malone’s finished. The Denver entrepreneur acknowledged as much this week when he said he was still interested in the U.S. entertainment assets of Vivendi Universal.

Entertainment magnate Haim Saban seemed to speak for most when he predicted that Malone would win the bidding war for those properties and would then sell most if not all of them to a company such as Viacom Inc. or NBC.

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“I’m gonna make a prediction,” Saban said. “If Malone wants it, Malone gets it.”

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Nike Fashion

Phil Knight, the chief executive of Nike Inc., showed up at the Sun Valley Resort on Thursday wearing a black sport jacket, bluejeans, oversized sunglasses -- and a prickly 5 o’clock shadow. When he emerged from the Friday morning presentations, he looked exactly the same. No sign of Chuck Taylor Converses, despite the fact that Nike last week purchased the privately held manufacturer of the beloved canvas shoes.

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Karmazin’s Absence

Where was Mel?

When Viacom Inc. Chairman Sumner Redstone arrived in Sun Valley, he brought along his posse, perhaps the largest contingent from any one company outside of the conference hosts, Allen & Co.

Accompanying him were CBS chief Leslie Moonves, Paramount studio head Jonathan Dolgen and Chief Financial Officer Rich Bressler. But no Mel Karmazin, Redstone’s highly respected second in command. It instantly set tongues wagging, particularly given earlier reports about a power struggle between the two leaders.

Redstone sought to put any rumors to rest: “Where I am, he doesn’t have to be.”

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Don’t Ask

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. CEO H. Lee Scott stunned many in this high-rolling crowd when he said that he stays at the Days Inn when he travels and often bunks with his chief financial officer to save the company money.

That led Los Angeles money manager Gordon Crawford, a conference regular, to pose the following question to Redstone: “Do you share a room with Mel when you travel?”

The 80-year-old chief executive didn’t miss a beat, according to those at the session, which was closed to the media: There should be limits to male-to-male interaction, he quipped.

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“It provided a lot of levity,” said one executive.

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The Big D

Back from Germany after an unsuccessful run at broadcasting giant KirchMedia, Saban seemed to hold a crystal ball.

He predicted that cable giant Comcast Corp. would buy “an unnamed studio that begins with the letter D,” then darted off to lunch, where tables were set up on a lawn near a duck pond surrounded by fir trees.

There sat Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, lunching with News Corp. Deputy Chief Operating Officer Lachlan Murdoch and News Corp. Chairman Peter Chernin. As if on cue, Chernin strolled over to another table and pulled up a chair -- next to Walt Disney Co. President Bob Iger.

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On the Media Menu

One major investor predicted that Vivendi would not be the last big media deal in the decade-long rush toward consolidation. What’s up for grabs?

“There’s still EMI, NBC, Rainbow Media, Disney and Discovery,” not to mention the deal-making likely to unfold in the Internet business, where Barry Diller, the chief of InterActiveCorp, is likely to emerge as king, the investor said.

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Just Like Camp

Herbert Allen, the influential New York investment banker whose firm picks up the tab for the five-day event, doesn’t just spring for food and lodging at the resort. His company also arranges all sorts of fun and games for his guests, who totaled about 500 this year. As in years past, there was river rafting, skeet shooting, golf, bike riding, guided hikes, fly fishing and horseback riding.

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Quick Cuts

A full week of mogul-watching netted the following sightings:

* Capital Research & Management’s Crawford walked into the resort lodge Wednesday night at about 11 p.m., after a full day of fly fishing on the Silver River -- by himself. “I would have stayed later, but it got dark,” he said, adding that the catch was great and thrown back into the river.

* Allen’s good friend, ABC newswoman Diane Sawyer, emerged from Friday morning’s presentation in jeans and hiking boots. With whom was she trekking? “Any group I can find.”

* Disney’s Iger, his wife, Willow Bay, and their young son Max were among those who joined the annual hayride through the woods to the meticulously restored Trail Creek Cabin, owned by the resort. Guests ate barbecue and were entertained by costumed cowboys and Indians, as a band played on the rustic plank stage.

* International man of mystery Vivi Nevo hobnobbed with all the media heavyweights but answered few questions from the press about himself. A Google search found no entries for him or his company, NV Investments. He said only that he’d been attending the conference for eight years, that he is not Italian and that he has lived in both New York and Los Angeles. But sources said his wealth is inherited and that his investments are concentrated in entertainment, media and technology stocks.

* Late-night power tables in the lodge bar: AOL Time Warner chief Richard Parsons sitting with Comcast’s Ralph and Brian Roberts, Saban and Nevo. In the lounge outside the bar: Viacom’s Bressler and Moonves, producer-manager Brad Grey, William Morris Agency’s Jim Wiatt, Dreamworks SKG’s Jeffrey Katzenberg and Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein.

* Invitations to the Allen conference are hard to come by. Among the newcomers this year was Emmis Communications chief Jeffrey Smulyan -- and he and his fiancee weren’t wasting a moment. “We’re the Clampetts of Sun Valley,” joked Smulyan, founder of the publicly traded company, which owns TV and radio stations, including L.A.’s hip-hop leader Power 106, and such publications as Los Angeles magazine. The former owner of the Seattle Mariners baseball team and a bidder for the L.A. Dodgers went for the hayride, as well as the horseback riding.

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His fiance, Heather Hill, was sporting a rock as big and round as a nickel.

“I bought it on QVC,” Smulyan said. “It’s zirconium.”

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