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Twitter talk probably wasn't to co-founder's liking

Media moguls express their doubts about the social networking website's ability to make money. Chief Executive Evan Williams stays noticeably quiet during (and after) the Allen & Co. panel.

July 09, 2009|Joe Flint

SUN VALLEY, IDAHO — How much would you pay a month to look at YouTube?

Apparently, investor Warren Buffett is willing to shell out five bucks for the pleasure of seeing dogs skateboard, kids making their own videos and the occasional piece of unlicensed material. At least that's what he told Liberty Media Corp. Chairman John Malone at the Allen & Co. conference in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Malone shared that tidbit with reporters Wednesday after the morning sessions here. He was responding to one reporter's comment that Facebook probably could get away with charging users a small fee.

Malone, who sits on the board of cable programming giant Discovery Communications, thinks eventually people are going to have to adjust to coughing up some cash for online content.

"People will get addicted and be willing to pay for it," Malone said.

Though Malone and other old-time media moguls think their content is worth something, they're not so sure about Twitter. The social networking site that has exploded this year has been the hot topic at Sun Valley. Everyone seems to love it, but no one is sure about how to make money off of it.

Both Malone and Barry Diller, chief executive of IAC/InteractiveCorp, expressed doubts about the website's prospects as a cash machine during a panel moderated by the New Yorker's Ken Auletta that also featured Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger.

Twitter co-founder and Chief Executive Evan Williams was in the audience but stayed quiet, according to Auletta. He also dodged reporters after the session.

News Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch also made the rounds. He didn't seem to be in a buying mood. He said he wasn't interested in Twitter, and when later asked about buying the Los Angeles Times, whose Chicago-based parent Tribune Co. is in bankruptcy, Murdoch wistfully sighed that it would be "too difficult." He declined to elaborate on what he meant by that statement.

As for speculation that he might want to sell MySpace, the social network site that has lost some luster to Facebook, Murdoch said, "Hell no."

The conference opened with a bleak panel on the economy that was moderated by CNBC's Erin Burnett and featured investor Wilbur Ross, American Express Co. Chief Executive Kenneth Chenault and Simon Johnson, a professor at MIT. Panel attendees said that Ross was particularly gloomy.

Looking for a bright spot, Malone noted that although Ross was being "realistic," the billionaire investor also said he was still willing to consider investments in the U.S.

"Maybe he thinks it's reached a bottom," Malone said.

In between sessions, attendees did the usual hide-and-seek with the media. Auletta was more than happy to chat with reporters about the panel he moderated in spite of Allen & Co.'s desire that its participants treat the press like zoo animals. You can look, but please don't feed them.

The most anticipated guest of the conference, basketball star LeBron James, arrived late Wednesday afternoon in time for the banquet dinner. He carefully walked across the ice skating rink. No doubt James' handlers and coach wouldn't be happy if he suddenly decided to put on some skates and do a few figure eights.


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