A View from the Front Line: How Coronavirus Impacts the Media Industry

IABM and the DPP collaborated to host an international webcast on Thursday, March 26, responding to the thirst for experience and knowledge regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the media industry.

The event began with IABM CEO Peter White analysing results from its new Coronavirus Impact Tracker. Summarising the early research, White noted that, “from a supply chain perspective the area for growth is in connectivity, not surprisingly, with a high demand for bandwidth and connectivity as people move to remote working and remote production.

“That which is growing: virtualisation, remote production and the use of AI and machine learning. These are the three areas with key investment in the transition from SDI to IP,” said White.

“All of these will help the new paradigm shift we’re seeing, an irreversible tech move that is going to be accelerated by this [coronavirus] event. The pandemic will have the impact of accelerating these changes.

“The cancellation of live events is putting pressure on the sports industry, and a major source of advertising revenue of course in what was a quadrennial year. We’re seeing a shift towards solutions that enhance fan engagement as a result.

“The cancellation of productions is putting pressure on the post side of the industry and may spur creative innovation and new programming ideas. And obviously there’s a hunger for live news currently, even more so than normal, leading to a higher demand for collaborative new solutions such as the use of consumer video technology in the news.

“Finally, the surge in demand for on-demand streaming consumption due to our lockdown measures is leading to a pressure on connectivity resources and to Netflix and others cutting streaming quality. Obviously these solutions are good for those providing compression products,” noted White.

DPP managing director Mark Harrison

DPP managing director Mark Harrison hosted a discussion among companies in the television and video production space, and wondered what lessons we can start to learn about the impact of coronavirus on the way we work and the nature of work.

Nutopia chief operating officer Helena Tait said, “I’ve long been an advocate of people having the flexibility to work. I dislike ‘presenteeism’ intensely.

“I also think that with budgets getting tighter and advertising shrinking, especially after this crisis, broadcasters are going to be looking for us to cut our overheads. And we’re going to have find sensible ways of working.

“We need flexibility in terms of ways of working. It helps somewhat in terms of transport if over the next months we can put into place that we not only work remotely within the same city, for example, but that we can start remote shooting and getting that data back.”

“Luckily the backbone of our business is pretty much based in the cloud,” said Nemorin chief executive officer Pete Ferguson, “so we did have contingency plans and do use a lot of online software. But at the same time we did see some productions cancelled. We were right on the brink of shooting in Europe, Mexico and Los Angeles, all back to back for a big client but unfortunately that got pulled.

“Some shoots have been postponed, unfortunately, but post production is very much happening, using a mixture of online services and hard drives that are being collected from the office. We sent an email around to our staff about a week before [UK] lockdown, asking them just to be ready to keep working in the event that London was shut down. I remember thinking at the time, ‘gosh that’s a scary scenario’, but of course it’s the new normal now.

“Yes we have gone through a real feeling of panic – but also there’s a certain feeling of excitement about the future,” said Ferguson. “I think there’s a real spirit of collaboration now.

“Obviously we’re going to see a sharp dip to the economy in general, but I think once everyone starts to feel healthy again it’s going to go the other way very quickly and money will be made available. But people are shocked by this – it has scarred the industry, I believe.”

Keith Scholey, co-CEO of Silverback Films said, “I think we saw this thing coming in the middle of January. We did make some contingency plans in terms of our shoots and people working from home – but the speed of this thing has been shocking.

“I remember the moment when Donald Trump said that Europeans can’t go to America. That was the point I thought ‘ah ok, this is all going to happen a lot faster’.

“We had crews in Indonesia, Uganda, Hawaii, Australia – all over the place. We had plans to try to keep them going, especially in places where it seemed relatively safe. But it quite quickly became clear that we needed to bring everyone back – and we got them all back in time.

“Now the question is: how long does this go on? When does the world open up again? Obviously Donald Trump is promising to open up by Easter – let’s watch that one! When can we get back to business and when can we start travelling again?

“The reality is, we’re probably all going to have to get it at some point. How do we manage that long tail of this disease, and the duty of care?” – Keith Scholey

“I think the interesting thing about this whole disease is it seems a lot of people can go through without being affected but some are terribly badly affected. What we’re going to get into is a process where lots of people have had it, and the lockdowns are going to open up – but you’re still going to get it. The reality is, we’re probably all going to have to get it at some point. How do we manage that long tail of this disease, and the duty of care?” he wondered.

“Clearly the issue right now is the spike, and how do we deal with that. But I think the long tail is going to be even harder.

“The whole world is going into this point of, how much are they going to risk people and lives and getting the disease, given the effect of a long-term shutdown of the economy? You can already see this is the obsession of Donald Trump right now. He knows that if his economy is down for too long he will lose the next election. So he’s going to be pushing like mad to get that economy going again.

“That’s going to be America’s call. But all of us are in the same boat. We’re going to have to make some pretty big decisions that are going to involve compromise one way or another. I think that’s going to be really challenging,” said Scholey.