No doubt about it: this is the year that the Cannes Lions became known as the must-attend entertainment festival, and not just a big week-long international fete. The list of presenters and attendees is top-loaded with marquee media titans such as Harvey Weinstein, Les Moonves, and big Oscar-worthy stars like Will Smith and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Even embattled Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman felt it de rigueur to show that he remained in command of his empire, by heading to the Riviera and throwing a posh bash at a chateau where Gwen Stefani is headlining. Buzz has it that the whole affair has a million-dollar price tag. Will that news somehow help or hurt his cause? Someone would say this media emperor is simply fiddling with Stefani et al, while Viacom burns. Others would say he’s simply doing what an of-the-moment media mogul does to court the advertisers who keep the lights on.
That Cannes Lions has expanded from its advertising roots goes beyond its recent rebranding as a “Festival of Creativity.” What it does speak volumes about how we are at a crucial crossroads of content and technology.
We are, in fact, waist-deep in a convulsive programming revolution. Legacy players are in a perpetual search for the secret success sauce in an on-demand, multiplatform universe. Any brand seeking the gold has to look at itself as a media company, while its agency partners are looking more and more like studios every day.
What’s happening at Cannes Lions this year is reminiscent of what began happening at the massive Consumer Electronics Show about a decade ago. I remember being there in 2005 and running into Peter Chernin, then still News Corp. COO, alongside the company’s sports chief, David Hill. They were the first of many wide-eyed network and studio moguls I’d run into in Las Vegas on the convention floor, most of whom were at CES for the first time.
It’s more than 10 years ago, and I can’t remember which CES mogul rookie it was, but I’m pretty sure when I asked them what they were doing there, they offered the old Willie Sutton quote on why he robbed banks: “It’s where the money is.” No doubt the same can be said of Cannes Lions today.
When the numbers are tallied, more than 15,000 delegates are expected to have attended Cannes Lions. Of course, Vice supremo Shane Smith is one of the sought-after VIPs among the delegate throng. After all, Smith oversees a multimedia empire that seamlessly embraces creating advertising—legacy and new—and develops cutting-edge content with that heady mix in mind.
Meanwhile, studios and networks are increasingly putting themselves in front of brands like so many agencies pitching creative programming solutions. Moonves and Weinstein are being hosted by Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Levy. The Hollywood Reporter noted that this media Yalta-like meeting is being touted on posters on the Croisette as “The Conference: How a madman and a movie mogul see the future of storytelling in Hollywood.”
That blustery heavyweight hype about the future of Tinseltown storytelling makes for good entertainment copy, we grant you. But it’s much simpler than all that—Moonves and Weinstein jetted off to Cannes, because, as that famed media philosopher Mr. Sutton posited, they know it’s where the money is.