Cannes Lions Attracts Slate of Entertainment and Social Media Executives

Conan O'Brien will attend to talk about social media engagement.

Newer participants in the festival reflect the growing convergence of entertainment and digital media.

PARIS -- If you hear executives from Paramount or Disney talking about going to Cannes this week, don’t be tempted to check your calendars. The big film festival ended just over two weeks ago, but Hollywood players are heading back to the Croisette for the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, joining up with the big tech and social media players to talk about changes in entertainment and audience engagement.

Once strictly an advertising festival, the 60-year-old Cannes Lions has emerged as a dynamic new player in the convergence of entertainment, branded-content creation and the building of digital buzz and engaging users and fans on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr -- all of which are sending big teams this year.

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“The entertainment and media companies are truly trying to understand the landscape, which is becoming more complicated every day,” says Cannes Lions CEO Philip Thomas. “Clients all across the world have embraced the notion that creativity will drive their business success, not just their brand success, but their entire organization. And the fundamental change is definitely technology.”

Twitter’s real-time social platform has enabled millions of people to discuss their reactions to shows as they air, and media companies strive to hashtag their way into viewers' hearts and feeds, a trend the company calls television’s “social soundtrack.” The microblogging site’s Chief Media Scientist Deb Roy will be part of the festival’s daily seminar program to talk about how shows can engage viewers. 

Though the Lions awards are focused on ad campaigns, the festival itself has become a place to discuss overall media trends. “The change in the festival is reflecting the changes in the industry. It’s now an industry that attracts numerous new players that are engaging in lots of different ways, and partly driven by the new technology and digital capabilities, so it’s the music companies getting much more involved and Hollywood as well,” said Thomas, trends which are reflected in this year’s roster.

Paramount’s digital entertainment president Amy Powell is slated to speak about the film company’s digital evolution, while photographer Annie Leibovitz will be on hand with Disney’s evp of global marketing and sales Leslie Ferraro to talk about their recent consumer campaign that enlisted such megastars as Scarlett Johansson, David Beckham, Beyonce, Johnny Depp and Russell Brand and turned them into Disney characters. Executives from Turner Broadcasting, Time Warner, 20th Century Fox and Viacom will also be speaking.

“There’s a lot of cross-pollination between the different groups. It could be CNN or Time Warner or Viacom, talking to the digital guys. It’s almost like the gloves can come off a little bit because everybody is trying to find the way forward,” said Thomas.

Celebrities such as Jack Black, Anderson Cooper and Conan O’Brien, whose “Team Coco” online campaign and Twitter presence have been consistent innovators in audience engagement, will also be in town to talk about using digital and social media to connect with viewers.    

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YouTube’s global head of content Robert Kyncl will also talk about fan-driven trends and creating branded content and shows online as newer players, such as once-tiny alternative magazine Vice, turn into global media companies on the strength of their online documentaries and music content. Now, YouTube is opening five production studios around the globe and plans to launch five channels before the end of 2013.

“It’s a big mash-up, that’s what it is. It’s changing each year,” said Thomas.

“It’s early days, because these things always take a lot of time, but when Microsoft first came to the festival they were really the only digital player coming, and now we have these entertainment and media companies. I think it’s very telling that four or five years ago they weren’t here at all, and I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that’s going to continue to grow.”

Cannes Lions runs from June 16-June 22.