Creativity is once again taking a back seat to deal-making as traditional media companies like NBC Universal, Fox and Condé Nast join the fray of firms seeking business at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
Stars from "Saturday Night Live" are appearing on the Cannes mainstage, for example, alongside Linda Yaccarino, chairman-advertising sales and client partnerships, NBCU.
"We have increased our presence this year and we're excited to continue the tradition of NBC Universal at the Cannes Lions Festival because it's one of the places we form unique partnerships," an NBCU spokewoman said. "We always want to be where our clients are. Cannes Lions is at the intersection of technology, data and, most of all, creativity. Content investment is where we're placing our bets. We continue leading and evangelizing the transformation that's taking place in premium video."
It's a departure for a creative festival that's already bursting with digital media and ad tech companies that come looking for deals and partnerships with media buyers and other firms. Google, Yahoo, AOL, Facebook and Twitter, as well as a swirl of smaller ad tech companies, have for years invested in the festival, with expensive cabanas on the Croissette, extravagant parties and branded yachts.
Those digital companies "were able to come here and set the agenda," said Nigel Morris, CEO of DentsuAegis for the Americas. Traditional media companies, however, have been too complacent compared to digital media companies whose Cannes visits were fueled by rapid growth, he added. "My hope is it's a genuine signal that [traditional media companies] really are going to adapt."
"In general, there seems to be a higher turnout of media players in a week that had been recently dominated by the platforms," said Edward Menicheschi, CMO of Condé Nast and president of Condé Nast Media Group. "We have a bigger team here."
The publishing company, which owns glossies like Vanity Fair and Vogue, is in Cannes promoting its branded content and efforts related to film, TV and virtual reality through Conde Nast Entertainment. It's also introducing a data product called Conde Nast Spire, he added.
Still, Cannes is "fundamentally about the agencies," he said.
Discovery Communications has several executives from ad sales, corporate marketing and its creative team attending, as well as its head of Eurosport and International ad sales.
Viacom, which has had a presence in Cannes for several years, this year brought members of its Velocity team, its integrated marketing and creative content unit, among other executives.
"Viacom goes because we can showcase our innovation in an extremely target-rich environment -- so many of our partners are there," a company spokeswoman said.
Some senior leadership from Turner are also in attendance.
Vox sent the same number of people to Cannes this year as before, a small group, but is focusing on elevating the Vox Media brand via talks, panels, small events and as content activations such as a Cannes-specific Eater heatmap, according to a spokesman.
There are "scores more" media companies in Cannes, including bigger presences from companies such as NBCU, CBS and Univision, which is here for the first time, said Wenda Harris Millard, president and COO of MediaLink, a media and marketing consultancy whose clients include Cannes attendees from the media industry.
"They want to make very sure that they are visible to all of the marketers and major agency people who are here," she said. "It doesn't feel great to them to look down the Croissette and see Google owns that or Twitter owns that. They want to make sure they are part of the party."
It all started when the conference, in its infancy as a creative forum, started attracting media agencies, Ms. Millard added. "If media agencies come in, you have everyone selling everything come in," she said.
But for these traditional media newcomers who need to partner with digital companies that can distribute their content, being in Cannes is also about partnerships and deals. In just one day, Ms. Millard said she heard about multiple deals between large broadcasters and digital companies. "Major [digital] players are saying we really need to sit down and talk about how we can distribute your content," she said.
"They are trying to stay relevant as content and advertising moves to other platforms and demonstrate that they can compete with the creative agencies, digital content creators and the like who are making inroads in brand content creation and creativity," said Beth Reily, head of global media and consumer engagement, Motorola.
Contributing: Jeremy Barr