Digital age puts the numbers upfront

Lisa Napoli May 18, 2007
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Digital age puts the numbers upfront

Lisa Napoli May 18, 2007
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TEXT OF INTERVIEWLISA NAPOLI: This has been a pretty big week for the entertainment industry, big screen and small. Movie poobahs from around the world have swarmed to the south of France for the infamous confab known as Cannes. Back on this side of the pond, TV executives have been taking the wraps off new programs. They’re hoping to tempt potential advertisers to part with money. Variety’s Michael Speier says in the age of the TiVo, that’s not so easy.

MIKE SPEIER: Networks have to find ways to make up for the fact that while a viewer would watch a television, they might not be watching it on the traditional platform. So if they watch it online, if they watch it later, if they download it and the ads are attached to it, that still counts, but it doesn’t count in the Nielsen ratings. So all this, the Internet and the digital age, has not just screwed around with people’s heads, it’s also screwed around with the real business of this stuff.

NAPOLI: Is there something about this particular upfront though, where that’s sort of coming to a head, critical mass?

SPEIER: Well the digital discussion has hit critical mass. I mean five years ago this was not a discussion, nobody worried. But now people want to know if you download a show on one of the network’s digital platforms on a computer and ads are attached to it, does that count? And nobody knows how to monetize it because everybody’s new to it.

NAPOLI: OK so let’s talk about the big screen now. Is it “can” . . . “con” . . . how do you say it?

SPEIER: Cannes [“can”]. The big festival has started and when I say the big festival it is the grendaddy of them all.

NAPOLI: So is it a sales festival or is it an honors festival, what actually goes on at Cannes besides watching a bunch of movies?

SPEIER: There’s a lot. This is what we call a market festival, in other words there is a marketplace where people go to buy and sell films. Of course above all of this is the competition, the red carpet galas, the stars — and this year there’s a lot of superstar power. So a lot goes on, there’s the business of it, but there’s also the big pleasure of the red carpet.

NAPOLI: Mm-hm, that’s you’re reward for enduring it.

SPEIER: Exactly.

NAPOLI: So it’s interesting in this age of being digital that we have the upfronts going on at the same time we have Cannes going on, which suggests that we don’t need to just sit behind a screen all the time. We actually do have to get out and schmooze.

SPEIER: Right. And it’s also kind of old-school. I mean all of this is real old. The Cannes film festival, there’s nothing digital about it. It’s the beach, it’s Croisette, as they say, it’s the south of France. It’s really great, it hasn’t changed all that much. You have to get into the competition films, you gotta wear a tuxedo at the premieres. It’s really old-school stuff and in the upfront world, they’ve been doing this for years and they always do it at the same time. It’s like this is the big kickoff to the year-round stuff.

NAPOLI: Do they still have the three-martini lunches though during the upfronts or is that . . .?

SPEIER: Oh sure, yeah, but now they just bring it into the presentation so they have stars come in on helicopters just to surprise everybody. It’s a big showcase because they want to impress everybody.

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