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Nick Farnhill: What I'm looking forward to at this year's Edinburgh TV Festival


By Nick Farnhill, founder and managing partner

August 20, 2018 | 6 min read

A date in the diary I look forward to is the second week of March and the annual South By Southwest (SXSW) festival. Each year there’s something or someone commenting on how the festival is too big or too broad or has ‘jumped the shark’. But in my opinion, it never fails to deliver. There’s always something that inspires and with such a diversity of creativity, technology, people, topics and interests all represented over the course of two weeks, you can count on making those unexpected discoveries that make it so very valuable.

vanity fair

Vanity Fair panel to run during the Edinburgh TV Festival

However, it feels a little strange this year in deciding not to attend, but instead head north of the border to the Edinburgh Television Festival. Something entirely quite different, or is it? Each festival serves the purpose of inspiring and firing attendees up with ideas and fresh perspectives to return back to work with. Each festival also provides a platform to tackle the tensions and impacts an ever more tech driven world throws up. With YouTube sponsoring for a seventh year, creative technology is very much at the heart of the schedule.

So, it feels like switching SXSW for the Edinburgh TV Festival will be a stimulating alternative and one that should be of interest to marketers. Understanding shifts in audience behaviours and how these audiences are engaging with content is central to much of what we do. I’m specifically interested in our evolving relationship with ‘TV’. How will we our viewing habits continue to develop? What technologies will dominate – VR, mixed reality platforms, social algorithms. What will artificial intelligence bring to the viewing experience and how will personalised content advance?

One discipline AI will disrupt is the production process. Many manual tasks may be ditched in favour of AI. In the new Celebrity Big Brother, the Microsoft Azure service will deploy technology to help select the ‘best bits’ of the show without human interaction.

According to Microsoft, "the new solution replaces an entirely manual selection process in which production assistants identify the most important scenes to use in a Big Brother episode." The computer software is able to pick up on "patterns of language, keywords, and emotional reactions. It tracks, monitors, and indexes the activities of a house’s residents and infers what relationships they have".

Is this cost-cutting or creatively additive? Microsoft’s Tony Emerson will dive into this during the Festival and provide insights on using AI in the editorial process.

There’s also what’s being commissioned, how is original content being developed and how are new formats identified. Luke Hyams, Head of YouTube Originals will be diving into scripted and unscripted ideas on the platform and exploring new ideas with delegates. In a related keynote, Netflix’s Brandon Riegg, Vice President of Unscripted programming will reveal up and coming shows. At a time when we’re watching less broadcast TV advertisers are looking for ideas to find new ways of reaching their audiences. It’s therefore imperative to understand the opportunities that short, mid and long form content formats can provide when presented on streaming and subscription platforms.

It’s not all TV though. Audio also features across the TV Festival schedule. I’m fascinated by the explosion of podcasts and increasingly scratch my head wondering why in the UK we don’t have an equivalent of the brilliant Gimlet Media – the New York based podcast company responsible for Reply All and Start Up.

This April, Google co-founder Sergey Brin commented on Google using its full AI and machine learning capability to transform a number of services, with podcasts amongst these. Google would like people to launch and listen to podcasts right from their search results, removing the need for a dedicated app. If a podcast is able to answer a search query then podcasts will be high in results and listeners will grow. The goal is for audio to become a ‘first-class citizen’ alongside text, images and video.

This is clearly an opportunity for brands to deliver useful and entertaining content to audiences. And there’s always the chance that a podcast may make the leap to film and become a branded format or property?

It’s a shame to have missed out on SXSW this year, but exciting to meet and listen to a whole bunch of people and companies that I perhaps wouldn’t normally get the chance to. I’ll also avoid the jet lag.

Of course, if none of this is of interest, you can turn it off and go out and watch something less boring instead. The Edinburgh Fringe is on the festival door step.

Nick Farnhill is the chief executive of both Publicis London and Poke.


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