Why Television Is Taking Over Cannes Lions

Viola Davis and Kim Kardashian lead TV's biggest festival contingent yet

When the Cannes Lions festival kicks off Sunday, it will feature the usual mix of speakers from the worlds of advertising, technology, entertainment and media. But this year, advertising's biggest annual gathering will also boast its biggest TV contingent yet.

While 2014's celeb speakers included film actors like Jared Leto, Ralph Fiennes and Patrick Stewart, this year's stars come from TV, including Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Viola Davis and Kim Kardashian.

Among this year's TV professionals speaking at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity:

  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus, actor, Veep
  • Viola Davis, actor, How to Get Away With Murder
  • Kim Kardashian West, star, Keeping Up With the Kardashians
  • Pete Nowalk, creator and executive producer, How to Get Away With Murder
  • Betsy Beers, executive producer, Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder
  • Richard Plepler, chairman and CEO, HBO
  • Dave Alpert, executive producer, The Walking Dead
  • Steven Yeun, actor, The Walking Dead
  • Nina Dos Santos, anchor and correspondent, CNN
  • Christiane Amanpour, chief international correspondent, CNN
  • Jamie Oliver, TV chef

Why is television starting to take over Cannes Lions? "TV is having such a renaissance, particularly in the States," said Philip Thomas, CEO, Cannes Lions. "The quality of TV storytelling now is in many ways eclipsing the movies. So when we're looking for great storytellers, big stars and big creators, I think that is the reason why so many of the people that put on our seminars are looking to the TV world."

At the same time, the networks and studios are warming to the importance of Cannes Lions. "The TV companies are understanding that at our festival are a lot of brands and advertisers who they would very much like to be communicating with," said Thomas. "So it's the business side and the creative side that have created this perfect storm."

Thomas said the festival's TV speakers in recent years generated great enthusiasm among attendees—shows represented last year included Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones. "It does mirror the explosion of quality content in TV, and the people that are very interesting to our delegates are the creators, the producers and the writers of those TV shows," he said. "They are telling stories, and they've got lessons to teach our delegates, both our clients and our advertising people, about how to sell stories and how to package stories, and I think our delegates find that particularly interesting."

With all those TV heavy-hitters on tap for next week, Thomas isn't yet sure which one of them will generate the biggest festival buzz. "We can never tell who is going to really capture the imagination," he said. "We're expecting a big turnout for Kim Kardashian, but who knows? It's very interesting. The delegates move toward the speakers that they find particularly interesting, and quite often we're surprised. So it's really hard to tell until we see what happens on the ground."