Is the end of the TV commercial as we know it nigh? How do broadcasters persuade fickle, techno-spoilt audiences to stick with the box for their entertainment fix? Can apps, brands and second screens really hold the key to a new kind of TV? And, aside from providing fodder for a new season of Mad Men, what can channel execs learn from adland? This week, the worlds of TV and branding came together in an unseasonably snowy Paris to puzzle through these questions and more at PromaxBDA Europe 2013.
The theme of this year's conference was 'Renaissance'. While spring time shoots were hard to spot beneath la neige outside, inside there were indeed signs of rebirth. Over the past few years marketing budgets have been hacked back and, while no one would argue the European economy is back on any kind of track, there was a feeling that, having had time to get their heads around the euphemistic 'efficiency drives', marketing teams were regaining confidence.
The 'renaissance' also referred to the regeneration, or re-imagining of TV itself. The conference and award's raison d'être is to celebrate TV promotion - so inevitably discussion turned to what TV actually is in the 21st century - and what it might become.
There was Zeebox co-founder Anthony Rose, who described the rise of 'social TV'. By ditching listings guides and turning to apps, viewers can 'discover' content through social media contacts, and live TV programmes will adapt to become more interactive and inclusive. He suggested that new ad models, like click-to-buy, could sound a death knell for the good ol' stalwart TVC. In what turned out to be @LBBonline's most retweeted quote from the conference, he said, "Perhaps in the future we'll tell our children that TV shows used to stop in the middle for five minutes and we'd go and make ourselves a cup of tea... And they'll look at us like we're dinosaurs."
Keynote speaker, AOL Digital Prophet David Shing (err, nice job title) worked some messianic magic on the audience. His talk on the 'digital playground' took in a broad view of current and future tech trends. He predicted an end to the high school popularity contest on social networks and a wave of de-friending, as quality engagement trumps the numbers game. In an increasingly crowded digital landscape, he also suggested that the real (paid for) value that brands will provide in the future will be an ability to strip out the clutter and editorialise and curate content.
It wasn't all tech and telly though. Creativity was another recurring motif. After all, you can't be a real Renaissance man or woman without a splash of artistry. Red Bee ECD, Charlie Mawer, discussed practical principles for nurturing creatives. Tips included valuing the power of the team - whether in collaboration with outside artists, partnership or mentorship. He also argued that CDs should be open to training requests that are not immediately relevant.
Another speaker laden with practical advice was Tooth+Nail's Linda Button, who took us through the numbers behind good copywriting. The numbers in question? Not 44, as my inner Douglas Adams geek hoped. 0, 10, 24/7, 10,000 and 1. Adding it up, this particular formula equalled one thing - write more. More ideas, more practise, more redrafts. If Charlie Kaufman writes five pages for every two lines of dialogue, then, argues Button, a 60-second spot deserves 6,000 words of thought behind it.
Despite the varied programme though, the one thing that's really got me thinking was the chance to connect with TV people from across Europe and beyond. For those of us who remember a time before mobiles and broadband, TV forms the basis for much of our shared cultural references. We have weirdly emotional connections with TV brands. These attachments and loyalties are no doubt diluting and can no longer be taken for granted among younger generations, able to access whatever entertainment they want from wherever they want. Hence, I guess, the need for the work of the Promax delegates.
One thing's for sure - if my Nana used to warn me about getting square eyes for sitting too close to the TV in the 80s, God knows what she'd say about the multi-screening future generations.
As I write this with the fading embers of my Blackberry's battery, on a delayed Eurostar train which has been sitting immobile in the snowy French countryside for the last half hour, I've realised that there is something the French and the Brits have in common, after all. We're both rubbish in the snow.