Media executives were unusually somber at their annual retreat in Sun Valley, Idaho this week, with News Corp Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch surprised at what he described as the very bearish mood.
I'm shocked at the business mood, which is talking about either that we're at the bottom or going lower, but that it's going to take years and years, like five years at least, before we see any real growth coming out of this, Murdoch told Fox Business Network television in an interview at the conference.
I would say the conference is very bearish, very bearish.
The Allen & Co event is one of the year's biggest gatherings of television, movie and Internet executives in the United States.
It takes place amid concerns about the global recession, shrinking advertising revenue and changes in the way people consume news and entertainment in the Internet age that could render big media empires obsolete.
Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, whose company has weathered the downturn better than many others thanks to its dominance in the Web search advertising market, also called the mood at Sun Valley sober and realistic.
He said there had been talk during one presentation of a square root recovery, meaning the economy could rebound then remain flat, like the shape of the square root sign.
We're through the shock, we're through the collapse. I would argue the worst is behind us, speaking generally, not specifically to Google, Schmidt said, but added that there were no strong signs of an immediate recovery.
He said executives in general were adapting to the changed economic circumstances, which he described as the new normal.
The reality of the new normal is you run inventories very tight, credit is not broadly available, you can't waste money, Schmidt said.
In this environment, NBC Universal head Jeffrey Zucker said it was tough for businesses to get capital, making mergers and acquisitions more difficult.
Buyers are looking for bargains, sellers are looking to get what they think they were worth a year ago. I think that makes it difficult to get anything done in this climate. I think you'll probably see nothing in the media space for the rest of this year, Zucker told CNBC in an interview.
I don't think you're going to get the access to capital so readily right now, he added. NBC Universal is owned by General Electric Co and Vivendi .
Sony Corp <6758.T> CEO Howard Stringer was also similarly cautious about the economy. There's no evidence to be really optimistic...There's an agnostic mood to it all, he said on Thursday.
People just aren't sure what's going to happen. There's a an air of uncertainty about the whole conference. Earlier in the week, Stringer had said he saw green shoots but it's a very light shade of green.
(Additional reporting by Peter Henderson and Gabriel Madway in San Francisco; Editing by Tiffany Wu and Valerie Lee)