Faced with the unprecedented 2020 panorama and a lot of uncertainty ahead, the audiovisual industry is experiencing highly challenging moments in which, once again, it is reinventing itself.
Challenges are present on multiple levels. On the one hand, due to forced confinement, the demand for content is exponentially growing; on the other, most productions have stopped.
In addition, we have seen how all major events and markets have had to cancel their face-to-face appointments, thus redesigning virtual experiences. Clearly, this exceptional scenario appears to have reshaped the immediate future of markets in many ways.
This situation has become a big challenge for the entertainment industry. To understand it better from the inside, we have asked some of the most distinguished representatives of the main international TV trade shows for their experiences and opinions: Laurine Garaude, Head of TV Division for ReedMidem; Géraldine Gonard, creator and director of Conecta Fiction; Nicolás Smirnoff, Director of Prensario Internacional, publisher promoting the event Virtual Screenings; Mathieu Béjot, Director of Strategy and Development at Sunny Side of the Doc.
Talking about the greatest challenges of markets gone digital, Laurine Garaude shared with us her recent experience at MIPCOM Online+ confirming that the biggest difficulty was “to bring the spirit of MIPCOM to the online market. Nothing replaces in person meetings and we knew that everyone was going to miss the buzz of being in Cannes and doing business in that environment. We rose to that challenge by not compromising at all on the quality and breadth of the schedule which included all the elements of discovery, inspiration and connection that our delegates expect. We made sure we had a plenty of ‘MIPCOM moments’ like the Diversify TV Excellence Awards, the women’s power lunch and, new for this year, the MIP SDG Award – all of which celebrated this powerful and resilient industry.
Additionally, we chose a platform that was first and foremost designed for networking and the feedback and learnings from this first time of using it will inform and improve the platform going for future events”.
The effort of reproducing the spirit of the face-to-face event is an inevitable aspect that Géraldine Gonard also underlines, telling us that “the biggest challenge for Conecta FICTION was to virtually reproduce the essence of the face-to-face event. And we did it in record time, also because the pandemic started in March and the event was taking place in June. We realized after this experience that almost everything can be moved online, except for the networking part that, no matter how powerful videoconferencing tools are, they cannot replace 100% human contact. The experience was very positive because we discovered new digital tools, and even if we go back to presence-based modality in the future – and we all hope so – we’ll still use them. During the pandemic, surely, the hybrid format is the one that will remain with a greater presence of professionals from the country where the event is held and with less in person participation of professionals from nearby countries; the rest of the professionals will go through hybrid. We might be traveling less and will be more selective in terms of our attendance at markets and events, which, instead of being massive, will be increasingly specialized and effective”.
Nicolás Smirnoff tells us that Prensario Internacional organized Virtual Screenings in the first instance as a virtual replacement for the LA Screenings, once the cancellation of the event was confirmed and the market couldn’t count on meetings that would allow it to continue operating. “Clients and buyers agreed that it would be very good to organize a virtual event, and so we decided to move forward with it since we already had the basic things we needed: relationship with distributors and global buyers and knowledge of digital platforms” the executive said, adding that “compared to physical events, online events have some advantages: they are more global, cheaper, more efficient, and interactions can be measured in more detail.”
Looking again at Europe, Mathieu Béjot shares his experience with us, stating that “with hindsight, our biggest challenge was – and still is – to offer online the level of interaction and serendipity which you can find at physical events. While we had great feedback from the industry on the pitching sessions and more generally on all our editorial content as well as on pre-arranged meetings, we found it more difficult for participants to set up meetings beyond their existing network of contacts. We know that all digital events face that same challenge and it is our top priority at the moment. As the pandemic is far from over, and since our connected edition did allow us to reach out to participants who may not have been able to travel to France anyway, we are planning a hybrid edition in 2021, both onsite in La Rochelle and online. We are also working on offering year-long online activities. We need to make sure they are engaging, interactive and lead to new meetings and business opportunities”.
In an audiovisual world where borders do not exist anymore, we have wondered how producers, buyers and decision makers are reacting to the current situation. How was the feedback in terms of business volume and effectiveness, for example, of the pitching sessions under online mode?
In this respect, Géraldine Gonard confirms to have seen from the beginning of the pandemic a great dynamism from the audiovisual sector “especially television, being of all the least affected by the crisis – less than the cinema industry, for example – mainly because much television content has been and continues to be consumed during confinement. The producers, talents, TV executives have not stopped working. Even so, this sector is suffering from a drop in advertising investment which will affect production budget in TV content. That’s why is so necessary and important for each one to look for partners to finance the fiction projects. The feedback on the effectiveness of the pitching sessions during Conecta FICTION was surprisingly very positive. As a matter of fact, they were the most viewed of all the activities carried out in September. And we’re already seeing the results with the first agreements being signed.”
Nicolás Smirnoff points out that “the first edition of Virtual Screenings evidenced the need of the industry to continue meeting. The event was successful in May and so we planned a second edition for autumn, improving what could be enhanced. We changed to a modular design, which would allow developing better needs such as highlighting certain products, displaying market figures, showing the best news from the market and sponsors and, above all, adding conferences, panels and market testimonials. Many leads were generated for each sponsor”.
According to Mathieu Béjot, evaluating the turnover made during the market is more difficult when you do not have the live comments of the participants. Nevertheless, “the pitching sessions worked really well online. They were repeated every day in order to reach participants in different time zones and also made available online afterwards. All pitched projects enjoyed one-to-one meetings with decision makers, and some of them have found coproduction partners or investors. Despite the current context and the online format, significant sales and financing deals have been reported to us even if the overall volume is probably lower than usual. As mentioned before, we know we need to increase the level of interaction in order to generate more business. While everyone is dying to have real face-to-face meetings, and despite a real Zoom fatigue, online meetings have become the new norm and we trust we can build on changing behaviours to create new opportunities”.
On her side, Laurine Garaude tells us that “the whole international television community – producers, buyers and industry leaders – all came together to back us in making MIPCOM Online+ a success. Everybody committed to bringing the Cannes experience online and adjusting to this new way of working.
We have had positive feedback from buyers, commissioners, distributors and producers saying that the virtual meeting system worked well for them and that they conducted productive business meetings on the platform. We’re also gathering feedback from delegates to improve the functionality based on their experience, for example – how the database works, how it is categorized and searched, the visual look of the platform etc. We will use all of these learnings to maximize the digital experience at future markets”.
The most consistent feedback received from all delegates, according to the executive, is that nothing can replace being in Cannes and meet people face to face.
As a final thought, we can say that during the last years we’ve been experiencing a deep transformation within the audiovisual sector, induced by new forms of consumption and the emergence in turn of new formulas and formats. The global pandemic situation is just one more new ingredient to this sector’s transformation.
It also seems that most agree that virtual markets have come to stay for a while, although each and every one of the industry players misses face-to-face events. The key will be knowing how to wisely combine the novelties and everything we have learned in the past months with the existing strategies. This always keeping in mind that all events have to meet the industry’s needs and that listening to those needs is one of the main keys to accept and overcome these challenges.