Design for Living

HD, Apple in demand at Promax&BDA

There were few neckties among the crowd at Promax&BDA 2004. But the funky eyeglasses and metrosexual fashion weren't fooling anyone. Serious business was under way.

Promax is the annual gathering of broadcast design and marketing professionals. It's one of the spicier trade events, supplementing training and networking events with speakers and entertainers from outside the industry circle. This year featured Donald Trump, the singing puppets of Broadway musical Avenue Q
and NBC anchorman Brian Williams.

Despite the glitz, high-definition TV took center stage. Promax's organizers predict that 2004 will be a flash point for HD. One 90-minute session was standing-room only. "The creative community is thrilled with the notion of being able to work in HD," says panelist Clint Stinchcomb, senior vice president and general manager of Discovery HD Theater and VOD. "It provides you with such latitude." He calls HD "the new golden age of television."

Nora Ryan, Rainbow Media's senior vice president for media strategy, agrees, noting that visionaries in the programming and promotion communities are leading the HD charge. "Everybody wants to be a part of it because it's compelling visually," she says. "It's really a fresh start."

HD aside, promotion sessions focused on state-of-the-art efforts.

In his "Next Best Practices" presentation, Lee Hunt, of Lee Hunt LLC, praised promotions that seamlessly blur the line between content and breaks. One "situ-mercial" was nearly indistinguishable from an HGTV home-improvement program. The year's most aggressive example of product placement were promos for USA's The Last Ride, in which star Dennis Hopper barely edged out a Pontiac GTO for top billing.

But Hunt cautioned against overuse of pop-up promos, or "violators," that appear on the bottom of the screen during a program. "We can only take these things so far," he said, screening a "worst-of" reel that included Jamie Lynn DiScala soliciting for Call Me: The Heidi Fleiss Story. "Sooner or later, there will be a consumer backlash."

In the exhibit hall, Apple generated the most buzz, with attendees lining up for 25-minute, hands-on classes on Final Cut Pro HD, DVD Studio 3, Shake, and Motion. Due for release this year, Motion is an affordable, desktop-based version of expensive motion-graphics systems [B&C, 6/21, page 22]. It may lure amateurs into motion graphics, but Apple Senior Product Manager Dion Scoppettuolo says professional designers shouldn't be alarmed: "People understand that the tool may be easier, but to get something good and original, you need a design sense."

Quality research is also important, argues Gary Holt, executive creative director of branding firm Lambie-Nairn. He helped develop indentities for the Arabic-language satellite channel Alhurra and the UK digital channel BBC Three. He says research should be a topic at next year's Promax. "Many designers don't like discussing it, in part, because a lot of good ideas have been rejected due to research," he says. "You could argue that an idea, if it didn't get through research, wasn't good. The creative end might have been excellent, but it didn't solve the problem."

And finding solutions is a priority for all Promax attendees.

In a keynote speech, Oxygen Chairman and CEO Geraldine Laybourne, who launched Nickelodeon 25 years ago, revealed the three-step secret of her success: First, know and love your audience; second, build a sustainable business; and third, honor creativity.

NBC News' Brian Williams echoed Laybourne in discussing his passion for quality news. Americans are increasingly self-obsessed, he said. Often, they want only news that suits their needs and desires. "Part of my social contract is that I will give you something you did not seek out," he said, "but which you damn well better know."

He encouraged promotion pros to embrace a similar role: "It is possible to do good—and to do the right thing—in the world of promotion."