Cannes Lions returns to the French Riviera

The mega-yachts of elite media, tech and advertising executives will once again anchor in the Mediterranean, where the industry’s brightest minds will gather in the French seaside town of Cannes to discuss the industry’s biggest problems over bottles of rosé and champagne .

The week-long booze-soaked event known as the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity returns this week after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s sure to be raw and vibrant.

“The demand for this [event] is through the roof,” said MediaLink founder and CEO Michael Kassan, who is also the unofficial mayor, master of ceremonies and grand poohbah of Cannes Lions. “There is a huge, pent-up demand to be personal, and that demand will manifest and satisfy at Cannes.”

Keynote speakers for the five-day festival, which kicks off Monday, are Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, who has been named the festival’s Entertainment Person of the Year, as well as NBCUniversal boss Jeff Shell. Actor and entrepreneur Ryan Reynolds will be in attendance, as will heiress and businesswoman Paris Hilton, Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, and outspoken ad guru Sir Martin Sorrell, among others.

Ryan Reynolds
Ryan Reynolds will speak at Cannes Lions.

With the pandemic easing, executives are likely to discuss how their companies have weathered the two-year shutdown and are coping with the current economic pressures. Netflix’s Sarandos will certainly be on the hotseat when Kara Swisher, who recently left the New York Times to return to Vox Media, interviews the CEO on Thursday.

Netflix, the media darling, is suddenly struggling with subscriber losses amid increased competition from Disney, Amazon and HBO Max mother Warner Bros. Discovery, which completed its $43 billion merger this year.

While the pandemic has fueled consumers’ appetites for streaming services and new content, the end of the lockdowns has flattened that demand as consumers slowly return to pre-pandemic life.

Cannes becomes a buzz of interest as thousands descend for the annual Cannes Lions conference.

According to Kantar Media, streaming growth in US households has stalled in the first quarter of 2022. This comes after “substantial growth” in the fourth quarter of 2021.

The data analytics company estimated that 86 percent of U.S. households, or 110.2 million households, were using streaming services as of March 2022. cutters by using data-driven content to entice them as subscribers.

“The streaming services are coming into effect,” said Kassan, noting that technology companies will also take center stage as the importance of ad revenue to those companies continues to grow.

Example: Amazon makes its debut in Cannes, the director said. The company will join other retail giants such as Walmart and Instacart, in addition to tech giants such as Google, Facebook mother Meta, TikTok, Microsoft and Snap.

But conspicuously absent is the entertainment and event company Live Nation, which has traditionally had an outrageous festival presence, throwing some of the most vibrant parties in sprawling villas in the hills above Cannes.

There are countless yachts in the marina of Cannes.

Twitter — which is in the midst of a tempestuous takeover of the world’s richest man, Elon Musk — will also host events throughout the week. With Musk hinting that he plans to cut costs, some Cannes insiders are speculating that this could be the last year Twitter joins fellow tech giants on the beach.

The presence of big technology and topics like “the metaverse, blockchain and crypto will be huge,” said an advertising executive, adding that given legislative changes, privacy issues will also be a hot topic.

Last year, Apple introduced an App Tracking Transparency feature that allows users to choose whether to be tracked across different websites. The change hit tech companies hard — with Meta admitting the feature would cost them an estimated $10 billion in ad revenue this year.

And last month, Snap’s shares plunged 43 percent — taking other digital ad and tech companies down with it — as the social media company said it expected to make less money selling ads.

Ted Sarandos
Netflix honcho Ted Sarandos will be at Cannes Lions.

It’s not just privacy and poor market conditions that plague big tech; looming antitrust legislation in Congress could also undermine the business practices of tech companies.

The American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which could be passed this year, would ensure that platforms would not “self-prefer” their content. For example, Amazon would no longer be able to promote its own content through third-party sellers on its site — a move proponents say would help smaller businesses compete with Jeff Bezos’ e-commerce giant.

Notably absent from Cannes Lions is Meta’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, who is normally a fixture at the festival. Earlier this month, Sandberg announced she would be leaving Facebook — and insiders say they don’t expect her to make the trek now that she’s on her way to the exit.

The festival was hesitant to announce the number of brands – or attendees – who made the pilgrimage to the Cote d’Azur, but the brand partners demonstrate the diversity of the companies represented.

Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg, seen in Cannes in 2019, is not expected to attend this year.

Gaming companies, including Twitch and Activision Blizzard, will be in attendance this year, as will telecom giants Verizon and T-Mobile and smaller tech companies such as Pinterest, Reddit, Roku and Spotify.

The organizers of the Cannes Lions Festival also hope to address diversity and inclusion in the advertising and marketing space in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. The event’s schedule includes a talk with Issa Rae, creator and writer of the HBO series “Insecure,” who will discuss prejudice in the workplace and beyond. Other panels address the importance of diversity in the creative industries, as well as a session with transgender activist Munroe Bergdorf on the ‘critique of positive representation’.

But the festival has recently come under scrutiny after a Brazilian advocacy group called out Cannes Lions for its lack of diversity when it comes to judges, who hand out awards to advertising and marketing and executives. Lions chief Simon Cook acknowledged the problem, noting that the festival “does the job of looking at everything we do through the lens of diversity, equality and inclusion.”

Still others lament the commercialization of a festival that is supposed to celebrate art and creativity.

Michael Kassan
Michael Kassan is seen as the unofficial mayor of Cannes.

“It used to be all creatives… now it’s really just an entertainment event for customers. It’s evolved – or carried over – to become CES on the beach,” lamented a Cannes veteran, referring to the busy annual tech conference in Las Vegas.

But Kassan defends the evolution of Cannes Lions: “We are here to celebrate creativity, but also to engage with the topics relevant to our industry.”

And to some pandemic-weary attendees, CES at the beach doesn’t sound bad.

“This is going to be a level setting of Zoom… now people who know how to work a room will do it right and that’s to my advantage,” a source told The Post.

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