really blue. Like electric blue. Maybe it was because I had just woken up after
a painfully long transatlantic flight, but I swear it was bluer than it should
have been. A Photoshoped postcard wouldn’t compare. The smell of coffee filled the cabin, and
window shades popped open, flooding the dark cabin with orange light from the
Mediterranean sunset. These were my first few moments along the Côte d’Azur,
the Mediterranean coastline of the southeast corner of France. Monaco was
floating below, as was my final destination, the Monte-Carlo Television
Dream-like. Everything. Lack of sleep contributed, but as my
Producers Guild colleagues, National Executive Director Vance van Petten and
New Media Council Vice President John Heinsen, and I whisked along the curvy,
seaside roads in a Festival van, the dream became more lucid. Like the exotic
frames of a James Bond movie, the landscape inspired thoughts of endless sun,
bikini beaches, tuxedos and cocktails. It was easy to see why such adventurous stories
find a home in this place. It was everything the French Riviera is known for
and then some—and a perfect setting for one of the longest-running and most
glamorous TV festivals in the world.
|PGA member Chris Thomes|
In 1961 Prince Rainier III established the Monte-Carlo
Television Festival torecognize television as an outstanding means of
bringing cultures together and enhancing theirrespective knowledge. This
past June, consistent with its 55-year-old mission, the Festival De Television
sought to enhance knowledge and collective understanding once again by
expanding the half-century-old program to include digital storytelling.
Although not nearly as old, our own Producers Guild has also
continued to embrace change in entertainment. Since 2002, the PGA has stood
behind and supported a vibrant and growing community of producers focused on
digital production. In that time the New Media Council’s constituents have
continued to educate, inform and provide perspective to the Guild on all matters
digital. Regardless of new or traditional media, all producers agree that
content is king. In Monte-Carlo they’re in good company, including a real king,
Prince Albert II.
With barely time to wash my face and don my suit, another
van raced us up the hillside to our first event: a reception hosted by the
minister of state and the CEO of the TV Festival. The roads were narrow with
tight corners, winding up and down the harbor circuit, so putting on my tie in
the van was all but impossible.
| Nighttime at the legendary Monte-Carlo Casino|
A reception line and handshake greetings with the minister
of state and Festival CEO gave way to Champagne and cocktails that sparkled on
waiters’ trays. An I-can’t-believe-how-good-she-looks Bo Derek stood nearby
with an eager entourage while an eclectic mix of the hottest young stars and
1970s TV veterans graced the courtyard with bright smiles and excited
I took a moment as I sipped a bitter, bright red Campari and
ice and looked out over the Monte-Carlo Bay. It wasn’t difficult to plug into
the culture of the Festival. It truly is a celebration. Far from some gimmicky
media event, this is a profoundly respectful, thoughtfully produced and
vibrantly glamorous ceremony that truly honors television and those who live
and breathe it. Network stars, veteran producers and guests from around the
world come annually to recognize achievements in TV, including the radical
evolution of TV into the digital landscape.
That’s exactly what Festival CEO Laurent Puons and Business
Development Manager Joanna Merchie did when they added this year’s new industry
conference and networking program, The Content & Multiscreen Experience
(CME), to the Festival. As Puons explained, "What we’re doing with CME is
bringing together executives and producers and all kinds of creative
decision-makers to discuss and collaborate on the latest techniques in content
creation and the management and distribution of that content.” That effort,
inspired by the radically changing TV ecosystem, also encouraged them to seek
out expertise from the Producers Guild of America’s New Media Council. And so
there we were—Vance, John and myself, shaking hands and talking digital with
the who’s who of TV.
|From left, PGA Vice President of New Media |
John Heinsen, Lisa Heinsen, National Executive
Director Vance Van Petten and PGA member
John Huncke compare notes on the Festival.
For the next few days the three of us, joined by fellow
industry colleague John Huncke from AMC Networks, spoke on a series of
forward-looking panels focused on digital perspectives, only occasionally
stealing away to try our luck in the famous Monte-Carlo Casino. From rights and
content licensing for digital platforms to overall production in the new media
space, the sessions covered a wide swath of ground and provided insights
critical for anyone jumping into the ever-changing and disrupted world of
digital television programming.
In the first of two panels, we discussed development,
production and distribution in the digital space, specifically from the
viewpoint of the producer. Several questions came up around distributors like
Netflix and how they are influencing the ecosystem. We agreed that while it is
encouraging a lot of new production, there is a wide disparity between the
budgets of Netflix and Amazon versus the smaller or multi-channel networks like
Maker, Fullscreen and Machinima or production companies with consumer-facing
brands like Buzzfeed or Tastemade.
While the House of Cards model is top-dollar,
premium, digital-first programming, there are countless micro-budget,
short-form digital series that make their out to the public via YouTube or
Vimeo.Helping to clarify that not all digital content is created equal was a
helpful stage-setter for the more detailed conversation around workflow that
followed. We went over the value chain
from beginning to end, while John Huncke walked through the evolution of a
digital idea through production and distribution on the AMC side, illustrating
the network approach for digital programming as more derivative in nature.
|Attendees and press gather on the Festival |
de Television red carpet
But everyone agreed that the producer,
no matter the platform for digital programming, is the ringleader holding everything
together. We reaffirmed that it will be critical for producing teams to become
more savvy about scaling budgets and crews on new media projects, anticipating
that many crew members will wear multiple hats throughout the production
I even concluded that a lot of digital
projects will operate more like indie film than traditional television and that
every department or group touching a show—from business affairs to
post-production—will have to think differently. The end of the first panel
landed on the simple idea that while digital distributors are creating more
opportunities for producers, the rules are constantly changing, so producers
are never really at rest.
From there we jumped to a second panel
focused on multi-platform second-screen content. John Heinsen and I walked
though several live event and pre-taped digital second-screen experiences both
of us had worked on together for several years. We made it clear that a second
screen has to be truly integrated into the larger program in a seamless way, or
it risks being dismissed as ancillary. True value comes from producers in both
traditional and digital formats working in unison to deliver a consistent brand
value to the viewer.
We explained that digital tools like the second screen are
enhancing fan experiences for TV programming as they proliferate across
platforms, giving viewers new insights into favorite shows via exclusive second
screen content. Vance, John and I acknowledged that second-screen enhancements
most effectively complement live event programming. I even suggested (perhaps
too boldly ... that was some strong coffee at lunch) that pre-recorded
programming might be the next big opportunity in the second screen space,
tapping directly into the writers room and developing unique points of view and
"super” experiences that will allow showrunners to tell stories like never
That’s when we again reinforced the critical value of the
producer. Having a solid strategy before committing dollars to a second screen or
transmedia experience is essential. Heinsen said that savvy "transmedia
producers adapt their IP to suit different platforms and even different
demographics … but the one thing I don’t hear nearly enough when talking about
transmedia is strategy, and you have to have that if you want to get the most
of what you put out there.”
|Inside the Festival awards ceremony.|
As an example I explained that a recent digital series
effort around ABC’s Secrets and Lies leveraged a strong transmedia
strategy early on, conceived from the writers’ room and executive producers.
"We funded that project from our own budget,” I told them, "which was critical.
We couldn’t wait for sponsorship dollars to offset costs. We simply moved
forward because the content was exceptional and it was the right thing to do.”
All in all, that was our message to conference attendees.
When you make content for digital, it has to be just as good as any other
traditional content. You cannot sacrifice quality. New media is simply another
format; the one thing that stays consistent is great storytelling.
And that was what everyone was there for: great storytelling.
For the next few days panels continued, screenings played, and Festival
attendees strolled the halls of the Grimaldi Forum following red carpets,
paparazzi flashes and the buzz and chatter of eager TV fans behind velvet
ropes, all of it culminating on the final two days and closing with the Golden
Nymph Awards Ceremony.
Kicking off with cocktail reception at the royal palace
hosted by Prince Albert II of Monaco, the event finale was a spectacle like no
other. As the sun set, I found myself in deep conversation over Champagne with The
Six Million Dollar Man Lee Majors and toasting with Sons of Anarchy’s
Ron Perlman and Lilyhammer’s Steven Van Zandt. Surreal for sure, and not
just because of the unexpected mix of attendees but because of the backdrop of
the amazing city, the investment from the community and royal family and
support and passion of Prince Albert. It is unlike any festival—ever.
|Festival attendees and guests enjoy a reception |
in the Court of Honor of the Prince’s Palace, the
personal home of Monaco’s Prince Albert II.
Down to the last day, the four of us
(plus better halves Stacy Van Petten and Lisa Heinsen) made a magical day trip
for sightseeing and shopping. Èze
is now one of my favorite places on earth. It’s a
renowned tourist site on the French Riviera, famous worldwide for the view of
the sea from its hilltop, where it is home to a rustic medieval village built
into the hillside. From the top of the gardens I could see it again. That
ocean. Electric and blue and amazing. Even the smell of the salty air was
mesmerizing. The day trip was perfect for inspiration and reflection before
heading into the final night of our journey.
Just as quickly as it began, five days
celebrating the best of television and its constant evolution—not to mention
blue skies and seas, bikinis, tuxedos and cocktails—came to a close on Thursday
night with the awards. Terry Crews, Ming Na, Lindsey Wagner and Bo Derek were
among the stars that celebrated the festival and the winners of the Golden
Nymph awards at the gala dinner, where we all danced into the wee hours of the
And while it continued to feel like
some lucid dream, the real-life impact of a festival like this is astonishing.
It honors TV like no other event. The Emmys are well-established and certainly
respected, but the Festival De Television takes it to a whole new level of
glamor and sophistication, with content that’s far more audience-friendly than
MIP TV or Mipcom.
As for the future of the fest, Puons believes that there is
nowhere to go but up. "We’ve established a great foundation here. There is
so much growth in television that we’re confidentmore and more high-level
actors, actresses, executives and producers will see that this is a must-attend
event and will add it to their calendar.” And the Content & Multiscreen
Experience is sure to continue to enlighten the industry about the latest
digital trends, just as the PGA’s New Media Council has done for more than a
decade, both reinforcing that no matter the format, the producer is at the
center of great entertainment.
a long week but invigorated from our adventures, John, Vance and I all parted
ways at the airport—John heading to London, Vance to Switzerland and I back
home to my family. I sat quiet and still on the plane. The cabin was dark and
hushed. When I closed my eyes, the amazing visions and events from the journey
flashed by like living paintings. I heard the casino and the paparazzi. I felt
the sun from the beach as I turned and saw the narrow roads wind their way up
the hill to the palace. I tasted the bitter, bright red Campari and smelled the
salt from the electric blue sea.