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What I Learned This Week: The (VERY!) Giant Screen

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Strange phenomenon.

I was recently invited to the launch of the second annual C2-MTL Conference, an event put on by the ballsy ad agency Sid Lee in conjunction with Fast Company magazine. At it, live on stage, a personable and glib host interviewed organizers, presented government officials and introduced the conference's speakers line-up (including luminaries like designer Phillipe Starck, model/entrepreneur Elle McPherson, Blake Mycoskie of TOMS shoes shoes and, although my light may be of lesser lumens, even yours truly!).

Given the bleeding edge guest list of techies, hipsters and marketing types assembled, aided by the liberal passing of quite passable wine, the assembly was rather--shall we say--animated, making the launch's host compete (well, sometimes fight) for their attention.

THAT wasn't the strange phenomenon.

What WAS, was how the chit-chatter of the gathering uniformly and instantly quieted down when the host turned to interview people not at the event itself, but elsewhere via webcam on a giant screen.

In a very general observational nutshell, the behaviour was:

Dismiss the Live
Worship the Screen

This may be one extreme example, but its a trend I find fascinating...and expanding. Given the fact that our eyes spend more time glued to screens than ever before (what used to be just TV has now mutated into desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile), the respect given to them versus the actual source material is puzzling...if not disturbing.

Think I'm exaggerating? Go to a concert or a sporting event, and watch the watchers. Check the angle of their eye-lines. If they're not too busy fixated on their phones taking pictures or video (another, previously ranted, beef of mine), they're watching the hi-res, internal broadcast of the event on giant screens above rather than the event itself below.

If this were the only fallout of pixilation fixation, so be it.

But frankly, the way people are watching live content is influencing the way live content is being produced. I remember running into a videogame executive at the NHL All-Star Game a few years ago who told me that TV producers are trying to replicate videogames in the way they present live sporting events. In other words, they were trying to make the football TV broadcast look more like the Madden game, the hockey one more like NHL20-whatever.

More recently, at TV meetings for Just For Laughs just last month, network programming execs asked for shows that were conceived "mobile-first." And given Google's foray into eyeglasses, ones that morph the magnifying lenses into literal in-your-face broadcast screens, things are only gonna get crazier.

Let's face the facts; this ain't a calamity, but merely another step along the evolutionary scale of technology and human behaviour.

But as a content maker and deliverer, it has important ramifications for me.

So the lesson this week? Maybe "Phoning It In," the derogatory term for a lazy performance, is taking on new, more positive meaning.

Perhaps the next time I have to present something live, I'll do so via a giant screen from somewhere else...even if it's simply behind the screen itself.

P.S. Here's a look at what C2-MTL is all about. Hope you can see me there live-ish ;)

C2-MTL 2013: New Speakers. New Venue. Same je-ne-sais-quoi. from C2-MTL on Vimeo.