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Cannes Lions Fest Combines Content and Commerce

Variety logo Variety 6/16/2017 Nick Vivarelli
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The Cannes Lions Intl. Festival of Creativity, long known as the world’s top event for advertising execs, is taking its engagement with the entertainment industry to the next level.

Established in 1954, the growing gathering was once attended mainly by members of the marketing and advertising community, but last year the Lions added new categories in entertainment and music to its prestigious awards.

Now its June 17-24 edition is set to see a robust roster of top movie, music, television and digital content executives and talent descend on the Croisette in a clear indication that advertising and entertainment need each other more than ever in the digital age.

Universal Music chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge has been named Cannes Lions Media Person of the Year — the first music executive to receive the nod, which celebrates innovators who have shaped the future of media. Grainge, who has been instrumental to UMG’s massive growth, driven by streaming platform subscriptions, is being cited for “championing innovative business models” and “creating a series of partnerships with a wide range of international technology and media partners.”

“Music was one of the first [entertainment sectors] to be affected by the disruption of digital technology,” notes Louise Benson, the fest’s executive director, who says that the music industry for years had been lobbying Cannes Lions to launch a separate strand.

Significantly, MediaLink CEO Michael Kassan will hold a fireside chat with entertainment mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg. The former Disney and DreamWorks Animation chief will discuss his new digital media and technology investment firm, called WndrCo.

A major matchmaker among Madison Avenue, Silicon Valley and Hollywood, Kassan sold MediaLink in February to Cannes Lions parent company Ascential, becoming the de-facto nexus of the event’s entertainment-oriented evolution.

This year top execs will be making the trek from entertainment companies that include Fox, Viacom, Paramount, Disney, CBS, BBC, CNN, HBO, Sky Atlantic, Turner, Spotify, A+E Networks, Sony TV, Vivendi, Discovery, Endemol Shine and Warner Music.

“We’ve always had huge entertainment names, and talent in particular, on the platform at Cannes,” says Benson. “But the relationship is increasingly moving beyond being a transactional one where talent is there just to promote itself.”

She cites the fact that such artists as rapper and record producer A$AP Rocky, who is also creative director of MTV Labs, are coming to Cannes to talk specifically “about the way they work with brands, and how they want to work with brands in the future.” Singer-songwriter and record producer Ellie Goulding as well as multi-hyphenate Nick Jonas will also speak on panels, while multiple Grammy-award-winning hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean will be holding an onstage talk about his partnership with music recognition app Shazam.

Significantly, the Paramount Network, as Spike TV has re-branded itself, has picked Cannes Lions over the MipTV mart to launch its “American Woman” series. The show is toplined by Alicia Silverstone and Mena Suvari, who are being flown in to promote the 1970s period dramedy inspired by the life of “Real Housewives” star Kyle Richards. The series launches in early 2018, when the Spike TV-to-Paramount Network handoff will take place.

Turkey’s Dogan Media Group is holding a session on the boom in Turkish dramas and formats, which make the country the second-largest exporter of scripted TV content after the U.S.

China, which has long been drawn to Lions, is upping its presence even more, with tech titan Tencent allowing its Chinese customers to buy their fest passes through its WeChat social media platform.

Additionally, Chinese e-commerce group Alibaba is holding a session titled “What Happens When Hollywood Meets Silicon Valley?” at which its chief marketing officer Chris Tung will chat with Hollywood producer David Hill, known for his work on the Oscars, Super Bowl and “American Idol.”

YouTube global head of content Susanne Daniels and its head of culture and trends Kevin Allocca will hold forth about global trends driven by viewers on the platform, while Facebook may reportedly use Lions to unveil its slate of professionally-produced serialized long-form shows, including a VR dating show that is being produced by Condé Nast Entertainment. This new video initiative is part of Facebook’s efforts to turn its apps into video viewing destinations.

“Entertainment firms are really being forced to think about new ways to develop commercial models with brands,” says Benson.

The Cannes Lions fest is becoming a prime spot to push that global conversation forward.

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