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Murdoch's ambitions may take center stage in Sun Valley

By Ronald Grover

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rupert Murdoch jets into Idaho's Sun Valley next week for the year's most exclusive tech and media industry gathering, armed with both the money and the appetite for a major deal.

The 83-year-old Twenty-First Century Fox Inc chief executive officer, a regular at investment bank Allen & Co's annual gathering, is in the midst of a deal that would give Fox the firepower to buy a content company.

Fox's 39 percent-owned British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc is negotiating to buy Fox's Sky Italia and its Sky Deutschland subsidiary in a deal that could net Fox as much as $13 billion.

"He's got the capital, resources and credibility to do a deal," said Mark Boidman, managing director of investment bank Peter J. Solomon Company, who is not attending the conference. "He's in a good position to know what to go after and when to do it."

Sun Valley will be teeming with CEOs whose companies might fit the bill. Among expected attendees are Time Warner Inc CEO Jeff Bewkes and Viacom Inc CEO Philippe Dauman.

Murdoch's interest in Time Warner despite its $62 billion market value has been the subject of industry speculation. He still covets the owner of HBO, among other potential targets, according to a former News Corp employee told by executives recently about Murdoch's interest.

The source did not know if Murdoch had made an approach. Time Warner spokesman Keith Cocozza and Fox spokesman Nathaniel Brown declined to comment.

"I'm not sure he could afford it, but you never want to say that about Rupert Murdoch," said former Viacom President Frank Biondi, an Allen & Co regular who is not going this year.

Some of the highest-profile chieftains in media and technology, from Facebook Inc's Mark Zuckerberg to Apple Inc's Tim Cook, gather at Sun Valley each year.

The conference generated deal discussions in the past. Comcast Corp CEO Brian Roberts discussed NBC with General Electric Co CEO Jeff Immelt one year. Biondi says he began talks to sell Madison Square Garden to John Malone's Liberty Media Corp there, but the deal fell apart.

Murdoch will be accompanied by sons Lachlan and James. Earlier this year, the elder Murdoch elevated Lachlan to non-executive co-chairman and James to co-chief operating officer. James has been especially interested in acquisitions, said a former top executive at News Corp familiar with their thinking.

Murdoch will not be the only acquisition-minded executive in Sun Valley next week.

Discovery Communications Inc CEO David Zaslav, whose company in May bought control of European sports TV programmer Eurosport, will be there.

So will Liberty Global Plc CEO Mike Fries, whose company and Discovery are negotiating to buy a stake in Formula One racing.

(Reporting by Ronald Grover and Lisa Richwine; Edited by Edwin Chan and Lisa Shumaker)

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