Champagne and Sushi With the Moguls


The media elite—old and new—gather for some yearend deal-making, kvetching, and one-upsmanship

It's almost New Year's Eve, and that means Power Lunch's sushi-and-champagne celebration for the media elite. It's mythical, of course, but let's imagine a bevy of moguls sipping champagne, fumbling with their chopsticks, and wondering what the heck 2007 will bring.

Our party guest-list includes all the biggies. NewsCorp. (NWS) CEO Rupert Murdoch is here with his wife, Wendi, and Viacom's (VIA) Sumner Redstone is attending with the lovely Paula. Time Warner (TWX) CEO Dick Parsons is poking behind the bar, pulling out bottles for the guests. "We've got better stuff than this at my vineyard in Montalcino," Parsons drawls to no one in particular.

Everyone's waiting for Ted Turner, usually the life of the party. But word has it that Ted has been waylaid at one of his new buffalo burger places, where he's yukking it up with the boys at the bar. A new feature at this year's party: a kiddy table for freshly minted YouTube billionaires Chad Hurley and Steve Chen and some of their dot-com buddies. (Rumor has it that they're springing for the booze for the after-party. Lord knows, they can afford it.)

Sore Losers

For some reason, everyone seems to be gathering round the younger crowd. CBS (CBS) honcho Leslie Moonves is chatting up some guy with his baseball hat on backward. Maybe he's from Digg, Facebook, or somewhere else in the dot-kingdom. Looks like they're talking about doing lunch, or making a billion-dollar deal—hard to say. Or maybe Moonves just wants another site to offer music from CBS's newly launched record label, or to show flicks from its new studio.

Not far away, munching on something that's clearly not peanut butter, Yahoo! (YHOO) CEO Terry Semel isn't having much fun. It's hard to enjoy yourself when your stock does a megafold and all your eyeballs head to YouTube and MySpace.

"I could use a drink—and some decent content," Semel tells Redstone. Ol' Sumner, looking sympathetic, drapes an arm over Semel's shoulders. Sumner hasn't had the best year either—stomping on Tom Cruise and Tom Freston, and taking flack from his lawsuit-wielding kid in Denver.

Gifts of the Season

Word has it that Sumner has offered to adopt one of those dot-com kids, but there haven't been any takers. Sumner figures Semel needs a new friend, and pilots him over to Viacom's new CEO, Phillipe Dauman, who's trying to interest the dot.com kids in some MTV videos. "Hey Phillipe, maybe Terry here wants to take look," Sumner says.

No one's laughing it up more than Jeff Zucker. He's still marveling at his Chanukah present: better-than-expected ratings for his woebegone NBC (GE) network and the out-of-nowhere ratings boosts for NBC Universal's MSNBC and CNBC news channels. "Anyone catch this week's Deal or No Deal?" he hoots. "And how about that crazy Jim Cramer?"

Zucker may be getting a little too giddy, but the buzz is there are more gifts coming his way in the New Year. NBC Universal Chairman Bob Wright is contemplating retirement, and the No. 2 chair is awfully empty. Zucker can't find Wright, who seems have ducked out early. "No problem," says Zucker, "I'll catch him on Tuesday at my—I mean, his—office."

Set of Satellites

Finally, John Malone shows up. His wife, Leslie, doesn't like flying, and it's a long way from Denver in their Winnebago. The onetime King of Cable is getting dissed by Murdoch, who just gave up a king's ransom (a.k.a. his stake in DirecTV) to make Dr. J. give up his 16% stake in News Corp. "Hey Rupe, got anything else you can't use?" the Denver dealmaker chuckles as Murdoch does a slow burn.

Across the room, radio-satellite mavens Mel Karmazin from Sirius (SIRI) and XM's (XM) Hugh Panero are drowning their sorrows. Subscription growth is falling for both services. "Making nice to Howard Stern is killing me," grumbles Karmazin. "Try smiling at Oprah all the time," Panero moans. For the 100th time, Panero wonders aloud about a merger. "Only if my name goes first," Karmazin interrupts.

Turner never shows up, and neither does former Disney (DIS) honcho Michael Eisner, who used to be a mainstay at year-end power bashes. There are whispers that no one among the heavies he has interviewed for his MSNBC show Conversations would come if Eisner did. Rumor has it that Eisner was holding his own party in New York, seeing The Lion King for the 12th time.

That's life in mogul land. All it takes is one shareholder revolt for you to fall off the Power Lunch guest list.

Grover is Los Angeles bureau chief for BusinessWeek.

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