Anyone who could conquer Youngstown was destined to conquer Hollywood and Silicon Valley, right?
I first crossed paths with Mark Lieber when he was a young sales executive for a soon-to-be defunct distribution arm of the soon-to-be extinct Metromedia conglomerate. Mark even joined while the fate of the company was in limbo, shortly after it was announced that Rupert Murdoch and FOX were acquiring the station group and would decide our fate at a later date. The premiere product it offered was the first of the rash of poorly produced syndicated situation comedies of the 1980s, SMALL WONDER. Lots of Gen Xers now fondly recall the show as a kitchy tribute to their faded youth, but trying to sell it to adults was a whole ‘nother story. The plot lines were flimsy, the “special effects” dirt cheap and almost everyone past puberty would scoff at the idea of watching it.
But thanks to the exceptionally strong support of top TV stations who banded together in the pious hope of taking control of an industry that at the time was down on situation comedies (the project started just before THE COSBY SHOW changed all of that), as well as in inexplicable appeal to an awful lot of kids and their doting parents, ratings were shockingly strong. And at a time when the majority of our peers had already done what they thought they could with the show, Mark Lieber actually paid attention to the data I was diligently churning out and was determined to make a sale. And not just a “clearance” to a struggling independent station as most of his contemporaries were doing. He was going to find a real station, in a tough market, and make a statement.
As luck would have it, one of Mark’s largest markets (he was just starting out) was Youngstown, Ohio, which also happened to be one of the largest in the country which at the time did not have an independent television station–and this was before FOX, too. Three stations, and not a lot of available time slots. But those who know Youngstown know that it sits between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, both of which were markets were SMALL WONDER was running in prime Saturday night time slots on strong network affiliates and were among the best rating stories in the country. He identified a station where there was a rich history of local kids shows and a family audience approach. And, sure enough, Mark not only sold the show–for cash–but he made sure it would run at 7:30 PM on Saturday night.
So I’ve never been surprised at what he’s been able to accomplish. And after decades selling family television and marketing media, Mark struck out on his own, turning his attention to virtual reality as it was beginning to become something significant. As he did in that small little market decades earlier, Mark (and a slew of equally passionate staffers , advisors and partners) identifed a void, looked objectively and data, and in 2018 launched the first Infinity Festival, then dedicated to films, moving to Hollywood and adopting its current name, INFINITY FESTIVAL HOLLYWOOD, the following year. As its website details:
Infinity Festival Hollywood is a multi-day, unique event held annually each November in Los Angeles. The event, which brings together creative talent from Hollywood and Silicon Valley, celebrates “story enabled by technology” through curated exhibitions, panels, screenings and events. The festival is supported by several Hollywood studios and leading tech companies. IF is held at nya (formerly Goya) studios and the Aster, with screenings and special events taking place at various locations in Los Angeles. IF Venues have included UTA, The Griffith Observatory, LightHouse ArtSpace, Capitol Records, Dolby Screening Room, Google Spruce Goose, Sony Studios and other iconic venues.
Regular readers of this space will recall that I was fortunate enough to attend last November, and, bluntly, I had a blast. You regulars know how exceptionally passionate I am about in-person networking, particularly post-COVID, and are well aware of my eternal frustration with so many cost-conscious and fear-driven entities that have been so reluctant to return to “normal”. Infinity was one of the first to get back out there with a hybrid event in 2021, and last year returned to a fully in-person staging. With top name talent like Howie Mandel, Jeff Bridges and Jon Heder on hand, along with dozens of other engaging speakers and hundreds of attendees, it was far and away the closest thing to the kind of conventions Mark and I would regularly see other at as our careers diverged, his often way more successfully than mine.
And this week, plans for the 2023 Infinity Festival Hollywood were dropped. As Lieber proclaimed on his LinkedIn:
The countdown has officially begun for this year’s extraordinary event! Tickets are now on sale, and you won’t want to miss our early bird special! Until October 15th, 2023, you can enjoy incredible savings of $100 on your tickets at checkout: https://lnkd.in/gyAnp2Et Our annual VIP Rooftop Launch Party will kick off the festival, offering a night of networking and celebration under the stars.🎙️ Keynotes from industry luminaries will provide invaluable insights into the future of entertainment and tech.🎬 The world premiere of “Behind the Scenes: ‘Barbie'” promises an exclusive peek into the creative process of this year’s biggest film.🤖 The introduction of the all-new A.I. Lab will delve into the cutting-edge realm of artificial intelligence.📽️ The Virtual Production Workshop will unveil the magic behind immersive storytelling.🏆 And to cap it all off, the Monolith Creative Awards will honor the trailblazers shaping the industry.With such a diverse and innovative program, this is a must-see event for anyone passionate about the ever-evolving world of entertainment and technology.
And yes, we will be there, and we will devote several pieces in the coming month to some of the stories behind the show and this year’s keynoters, as well as provide you with a dedicated tab so that you, too, can purchase tickets and join the fun and intelligence.
Hollywood may be increasingly virtual (though perhaps not as much as they had intended it would be before the unions dug in), but the business of Hollywood works far, far better when it’s done face-to-face, in an intimate setting, with cool music, well-dressed and well-heeled attendees, knowledge-rich panels aimed at thirsty brains striving for insights and people like Mark and his team in charge to make sure everyone’s happy and that their cocktail glasses are filled.
They’ll be more to say about all of that in the next few weeks, but for today we thought you should know a little bit more about why I’m such of fan of Mark’s and anyone in his orbit. May he continue to reach Infinity–and beyond.
Until next time…