Cannes Lions scraps plans for live festival

Parent company Ascential announced that the festival will be fully digital for 2021; MediaLink continues plans for live 'beach' in New York and London.

Cannes Lions scraps plans for live festival

After months of industry speculation as to whether the Cannes Lions would truly return as an in-person festival this year, parent company Ascential announced today that the event will not take place in the South of France. Instead, it’s going fully digital for 2021.

The virtual festival, dubbed Cannes Lions Live, will take place from June 21-25. It promises to bring the unveiling and analysis of Cannes Lions winners, as well as live and on-demand content to viewers.

The announcement of the new format comes ahead of the May debut of the Lions’ new membership platform. Those who join will get access to the virtual festival. The membership fee is €249, the cost of a standalone digital pass to the event. All previous Cannes Lions honorees will receive complimentary membership, and there will be reduced fees for talents under 30. 

“Over the last year, we’ve been consulting with our customers and working on our plans, including the development of Cannes Lions Live as part of the new Lions Membership platform,” said Lions Chair  Philip Thomas in a statement. “ We are now able to move fully to this format for 2021—which will have all the celebration, inspiration and participation of Cannes Lions—to unite the global community virtually during Cannes Lions Live this June.”

Last year, the pandemic forced the Lions to cancel its annual event, widely considered to be the most significant awards fest of the industry. The organization then debuted Lions Live, a platform that presented creative events and content throughout the course of the year.

At the start of 2021, Lions announced that the festival would resume for this year in June

Since then, however, the pandemic has continued to take its toll, with surges seen around the world despite the rollout of the vaccine, making the in-person event seem more unlikely. In February, organizers were considering scaling down the fete to a hybrid format, with smaller live events in France and the U.S.  Last week, Ad Age reported that MediaLink is in talks with The Whitney Museum of Art for a New York event.

MediaLink seems to be doubling down on that plan. In a statement this week, Chairman and CEO Michael Kassan said, "Throughout the calendar year, MediaLink hosts industry gatherings and thought leadership sessions that accompany major tentpoles and moments that matter. We have decided to bring our annual MediaLink Beach this year to both New York and London for our partners and the industry at large. We look forward to sharing more details shortly.”

Cannes Lions parent Ascential has been under pressure to resume the festival following a huge 2020 loss due to last year’s cancellation. Last year saw a revenue drop of 31% to  £264 million ($367 million). Sales at its marketing division fell 60% after the festival was canceled.