So much for the Internet. For the first three days of the Cannes Lions advertising festival, delegates listened to one seminar after another that sought to grapple with the disruptions of their industry wrought by technology. Then on Wednesday, a quartet of men representing the old-fashioned medium of television coolly noted that TV still dominates both the marketplace and the culture.
Kicking off a panel moderated by the CNN talk show host Piers Morgan that featured Time Warner chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes as well the writers Aaron Sorkin ( The West Wing, The Social Network) and David Simon ( The Wire), a slick video noted that the average person watches 1.5 hours of YouTube per week but 60 hours of television; and that while social media earned a few billion dollars in worldwide advertising last year, TV pulled in about $500-billion.
The panelists noted that, for many years, television's dependence on advertising kept it hidebound, as executives so feared offending or boring a swathe of the audience that they would only put programs with mass appeal on the air.
That approach almost prevented The West Wing from making it to TV in 1999: Mr. Sorkin noted that the show didn't test well with its initial focus groups. Then, the show was tested with four specific audience niches: high-income viewers, those with university educations, readers of The New York Times, and viewers with a home Internet connection (which was not yet widespread). All four groups scored it much higher than the mass audiences.
"It was on that basis that Warner Bros. Television was able to get a very high licensing fee from NBC," Mr. Sorkin said. "This was during the dot-com boom, and about half our advertisers were dot-com companies, and they knew they had to make higher-end spots. This of course pleased us, because when we went to commercial … they were nice-looking ads."
While Mr. Simon creates his shows primarily for broadcasters such as HBO that do not carry commercials, he suggested the rich tapestry that makes up some current programs is bringing about a new golden age in television, with engaged viewers advertisers would do well to target.
"We are beginning to overcome the passive relationship that an audience has with television," he said. "We're no longer watching television only the way we listen to the radio - as something to keep us company, as background music. With shows like The Wire, you have to watch it from beginning to end: you can't be flipping through a magazine, you can't be talking on the telephone, you can't be putting the kids to bed. And that's great for us, and it also happens to be great for advertisers."
After a few lean days, Canadian agencies are entering their own golden age on the Croisette. Wednesday evening, Canuck firms copped four Gold Lions: in the design category, Cossette Media Montreal took two (for Théâtre du Nouveau Monde and the not-for-profit Enablis) and Sid Lee Montreal won for its Bota Bota floating spa, while BBDO Canada Toronto won in the cyber category for a Skittles effort. (Leo Burnett won a Silver Lion in the press category for the homeless charity Raising the Roof and Cossette Communications Toronto won a bronze in design for Fiocca Studio.)
And in the Young Lions event, which pits junior creatives from 37 countries against each other in a 48-hour competition, BBDO/Proximity's Alex Newman and freelancer Patrice Pollack were almost febrile Wednesday morning when they learned they'd won gold in the Cyber category.