Royal couple talk Tech City, explore digital technology
To the cheering fans who greeted them everywhere, they’re William and Kate. And while their humanity and charm were in abundance over the weekend, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had more in mind than just a goodwill tour of the Southland: The choice of Variety’s daylong Venture Capital & New Media Summit as their first U.S. stop sent the clear message that this wasn’t a visit about fun and celebrity but about serious business and philanthropy.
At Friday’s summit, the duo met with reps of various digital companies, soaked up news about tech changes and strategies and, crucially, used the occasion to spotlight the U.K.’s Tech City innovation hub.
Variety president Neil Stiles greeted the two at about 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Wilshire entrance to the Beverly Hilton and escorted them to the green room, where they spent 20 minutes chatting with the day’s panelists (including Mark Cuban, Shari Redstone, Brett Ratner, Paul Feig, Gary Shapiro), Variety staffers (such as publisher Brian Gott, editor-in-chief Tim Gray and event organizers Linda Buckley and Susanne Ault) and event guests (International Esq’s Paul Wright, Linda Bell Blue, agent Debee Klein, Britain’s U.S. ambassador Nigel Sheinwald and consul-general Barbara Hay).
The newlyweds expertly tailored the conversation to each person, talking about sports, film, cars and Variety. But the most prevalent topics were the conference and its content, plus the innovations and possibilities of technology and new media, particularly as it applies to the U.K. The mood in the room was surprisingly relaxed and friendly (though even the heavy-hitters were a bit starstruck, snapping frequent photos with their cellphones).
Stiles then brought the couple to the stage of the hotel’s Beverly Hills Ballroom, where the conference attendees gave them a standing ovation. The duo joined the in-progress panel and listened silently to the “Case Study on Tech City” discussion, then went to the floor of the ballroom to talk with reps from various interactive-digital vendors.
Those included Crimson Hexagon, HP, Qualcomm and Randian. Each vendor was given a few minutes to demonstrate its digital tools. For example, Crimson Hexagon, which monitors and analyzes social networking, showed the couple the results of its online study of why Canadians most enjoyed their recent visit (most popular social-network attitude: Canadians feel William and Kate are a great rebranding for the British monarchy).
The duo’s conference participation highlights Tech City, the cluster of tech, digital and creative companies based around the Shoreditch and Old Street area of East London. The area was called the fastest-growing tech center in Europe, inviting comparisons to Silicon Valley.
A main ingredient to Tech City’s future success, agreed “Case Study” panelists, was the government’s role in providing infrastructure to house the quickly expanding technological ecosystem. It will be interesting “to see how the government can assist in recruiting and retaining top talent,” said panelist Ankur Shah, co-founder and co-CEO of Techlightenment.
Variety’s all-day summit explored how investors are propelling technological innovation that affects the entertainment industry. Speakers included leaders from Hollywood and Silicon Valley, including Cuban, Redstone, UTA head of digital marketing Brent Weinstein, Facebook’s Matt Jacobson and CAA’s Michael Yanover.
The Duke and Duchess’ appearance at the Summit, kicking off their inaugural visit to the United States as a couple, was met with cheering crowds, both on Wilshire Blvd. and in the lobby. (A large crowd hoping to catch a glimpse of the couple swarmed the security barrier by the main ballroom entrance.)
As with other appearances during the couple’s 48-hour Stateside trip, security, transportation and media were carefully choreographed and gave few opportunities for public photos. Preparations at each step of their weekend visit to L.A. were exhaustive. High-level security strategies, which involved reps from Buckingham Palace, the hotel, the Beverly Hills Police Dept. and others, were gone over multiple times in advance of the event. And media coverage was carefully vetted, with a limited number of photographers and camera crews allowed in the conference room, though there were many news vans and helicopters in the area.
Sometimes the planning seemed overly careful: A few hours before their arrival at the BevHilton, the red curb on Wilshire was being freshly repainted while cracks in the sidewalk were being filled in.
Following the conference, the couple went to a cocktail reception at the consul-general’s home in Hancock Park. On Saturday, Prince William played polo at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club, an event that raised funds for the Foundation of Prince William and Prince Harry, a charitable org focused on young people, the environment and the armed forces. Saturday night, the royals went to a BAFTA black-tie ball at the Belasco Theater downtown. On Sunday, they attended an event supporting Tusk USA, which focuses on conservation in Africa. Then it was a stop at Inner-City Arts, a nonprofit group in the Skid Row area that helps children, then to a job fair for veterans at the Sony Studios lot.
While the couple had a few encounters with Hollywood and celebs, it was clear that the trip centered on business and philanthropy. Though William and Kate have been embraced by the tabloid world of glamour, fashion and gossip (albeit with a minimum of “scandal” stories and a maximum of gushing, positive stories), Buckingham Palace is sending the clear message that these newlyweds are not frivolous and that their mission is to take things seriously and to improve things for the U.K. — and the world.