Cannes 2016 – Lead the Change in Cyber
by Nick Farnhill, CEO, Poke
“Sean Penn, you dumb, rude and full of farts.”
Don’t worry; this isn’t the start of a grammatically incorrect mauling of Sean Penn triggered by his latest ‘humanitarian romance’ that bombed at Cannes last month. No, it’s one of the many mean tweets read out by the self-deprecating Mr. Penn and other persons of note, including President Obama on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Mean Tweets, James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke and anything from John Oliver’s Daily Show are among many examples where US talk shows have created award-winning original content for a networked, always on, YouTube audience. Beyond an interest in promoting their shows and securing viewing figures, they’ve all made the creation of online material a cultural art form.
Production schedules, creative planning and shoots are specifically set up to extend these show’s online output. Audiences love it. A recent Carpool Karaoke with The Red Hot Chili Peppers (my personal favourite) has already clocked up 14 million views in just five days with no media support.
These examples were rightly recognised as winners at this year’s 20th Annual Webby Awards, dubbed the “Oscars of the internet”. The obvious question is, who is setting the Oscar standard for online content in the UK and why don’t Graham Norton, Jonathan Ross and Alan Carr come close? It took a move Stateside to fulfil James Corden’s full YouTube potential.
What is happening in the US that sets it apart for producing consistently progressive original online material? There seems to be what I can only describe as a more enlightened and risk-friendly approach to championing and creating online material that we must learn from.
Funny Or Die, the award winning comedy web site, captures for me what successful entertainment brands in the States do so well. Yes, having Will Ferrell as a founder helps, but it’s not just the Hollywood connections that fuel its success, it’s the fearless start-up mentality adopted by the founders.
The Funny or Die team shunned the obvious route of partnering with studios and prominent producers and instead adopted a lean start-up philosophy. The original prototype for the site was launched rapidly in 2007 with just two low-budget videos and testing followed to see if people liked what they saw.
Limited funds and boot strapped tactics have set the tone for the business ever since. Their approach is more akin to launching a new digital product or service than an online comedy channel. This has resulted in the kind of success big entertainment brands may find hard to replicate.
Their ethos is clearly evident in the location of their dual HQs. One is in Hollywood and the other in Silicon Valley. Not only can the team access the best in entertainment talent, but importantly the very best in tech and marketing genius from the Valley.
This is at odds with the millions of dollars (or pounds) that are often signed off by the big players for many new ambitious content projects, with the inherent risk that they may not deliver the success sought.
The alternative route is to minimise your initial financial outlay and produce multiple trial projects for a fraction of the cost and see what actually works.
If this tactic produces formats like “Between Two Ferns” for Funny or Die something must be working. The YouTube channel was nominated for an Emmy last year and won Best of Show at the 2015 One Show Awards in May.
Of course this way of working is adopted by others on this side of the Atlantic. The Poke (our continually amusing namesake) and Don’t Panic are to name but two. However more broadcasters, content owners and producers could adopt tech start-up smarts to create quality content and future entertainment brands that will come close to competing against our transatlantic friends.
Cannes should be the perfect place to showcase this type of media-defining work. Despite FastCo recently referencing the seaside shindig as the “Mos Eisley” for business and culture (one for Star Wars fans), I’m going to take a more optimistic position on what bringing all these people into the same place could mean.
With Harvey Weinstein being welcomed on stage by Maurice Levy, Iggy Pop discussing the death of rock legends with Nils Leonard and, of course, the Kardashian-West’s flying in, there will be much from popular culture to inspire brands, marketers and creatives.
While I’m sure some of the activities at this year’s Festival of Creativity will produce a few mean tweets, I’m certain others will result in next year’s big content triumphs.