Coronavirus Sparks Virtual Innovation Across TV Industry as Long-Term Toll Looms Large

With French events organizer Reed Midem pulling the plug on MipTV for the first time since its formation in 1964, the realities of keeping businesses ticking in the face of a potential global pandemic are quickly emerging for the TV industry’s buyers and sellers, with a range of contingency plans furiously in the works.

Most businesses were always going to send small contingents to MipTV because of a Palais-centralized reboot and pre-market business secured via U.K. Screenings and other events. However, the lack of a spring market will manifest in myriad ways — and points to more serious long-term concerns around the impact of coronavirus.

Pamela Martinez Martinez, founder of Barcelona-based “Almost Fashionable: A Film about Travis” distributor Limonero Films, says the string of coronavirus-related event cancellations and postponements this quarter will be “disastrous” for boutique outfits.

“As a small distributor, it’s key for us to have a presence at these events. We won’t be able to make as many sales or find as many new projects to represent from our office,” says Martinez Martinez.

The cancellation of MipTV and non-fiction sidebar MipDoc, which takes place the weekend before the market, “will have a big impact on our deal-making,” she says. “As a small company without a lot of revenue for advertising, we rely on the impact of face-to-face meetings. MipDoc, especially, is great for new leads and buyers.”

However, Lilla Hurst, co-founder of London-based distributor Drive, says the impact of the spring market’s cancellation will be minimal for more “nimble” mid-sized businesses.

Drive, which began life as a specialist pre-sales and co-production firm before expanding into distribution, is setting up a “virtual MIP” event to make up for any lost meetings and sales discussions.

Similarly, Avi Armoza’s ITV Studios-backed Armoza Formats is going ahead with a virtual marketplace entitled ArmozaFest. The two-week long virtual event kicks off March 23 and will showcase the firm’s new format launches, allowing clients to meet with the sales team “screen to screen.”

Meanwhile, for Asian online rights marketplace Vuulr, the market’s cancellation is providing something of a boon for business.

Ian McKee, CEO of the Singapore-headquartered firm, tells Variety: “The changes in the marketplace (mean) you need to move from a solely face-to-face deal structure where you’re doing a few high-value deals in person to looking at how digital can come in and complement that to give you the global reach you couldn’t otherwise get.

“When the ability to do things the traditional way is removed, it could be the impetus for the industry to accelerate its movement towards doing (deals) online,” he says.

Vuulr has seen an uptick in registrations from buyers who are self-isolating and following travel ban directives from their companies, but still needing to secure hours of content to keep business going.

Overall, however, industry reaction around MipTV’s cancellation, particularly for larger firms, has been muted. Martin Moszkowicz, executive chairman of Germany’s Constantin Film, tells Variety, “I don’t think anybody has a problem with the cancellation,” while Ghislain Barrois, CEO of Mediterraneo, the sales arm of Spain’s Mediaset España, also doesn’t foresee “large repercussions.”

“Nowadays with Internet and all the means we have at hand, we can still be in the international market and make deals,” he says.

Danny Fenton, CEO of London-based producer Zig Zag, says MipTV’s cancellation is a “big blow” as it sets up an uneasy precedent for Reed Midem: “It ultimately makes it easier for people next year to look back and say, ‘Well our business survived not going.’”

Fenton warns, however, that the broader impact of coronavirus is indeed taking a toll.

“There are more TV executives than you can imagine who have been self-isolating,” says Fenton. “A lot of buyers, broadcasters and streamers are asking, ‘What is your contingency plan if this becomes a pandemic?’ Staff are also asking what the plan is and whether they can work from home.”

Wider concerns revolve around coronavirus

Fenton predicts the real impact for producers will be knock-on effects on advertising revenues, which will then dent broadcasters’ budgets.

In its results Thursday, ITV forecast a further downswing in advertising revenues in the next few months, citing an “impact from travel advertising deferments” in March and April relating to the coronavirus.

Rajiv Chilaka, founder and CEO of India’s “Kalari Kids” producer Green Gold Animation, says the global impact of the virus has “thrown a wrench” across the industry’s plans, but ultimately, TV will have an easier time riding out the outbreak compared to theatrical.

“The (TV) industry’s distribution and broadcast avenues are multiple. However, the theatrical releases will definitely see a dip in attendance as precautions and regulations regarding public gatherings come into effect.”

Similarly, Mediterraneo’s Barrios has far more concerns about how COVID-19 could wreak havoc with upcoming release schedules and cinema attendance.

MGM, Eon and Universal postponed the release of “No Time to Die” until Nov. 25 in Spain, when it will go face to face with Telecinco Cinema’s “Way Down,” one of the biggest Spanish releases of the year.

“We’ve seen Italian authorities shutting down cinemas and the impact it has and will have in the future on cinema-going. How long will it take the audience to get back into the habit of going to the movies?” Barrois adds.

In Spain, Telefonica, the telco parent company of Movistar Plus, announced its first COVID-19 case Wednesday night at a work center in Northern Madrid. Meanwhile, both Beta Film and Movistar Plus were both locked in emergency meetings Thursday morning regarding coronavirus.

Elsewhere, production in Italy, the hardest hit country in Europe so far, has ground to a halt.

Once Paramount announced they had “postponed” a planned three-week shoot in Venice for Tom Cruise’s new “Mission: Impossible,” filming of Netflix’s big-budget Dwayne Johnson movie “Red Notice” — an imminent shoot estimated to be worth €50 million in spend — is now in doubt.

“Red Notice” producers Legendary Pictured are reportedly exploring other location options. Production of “Zero,” another local Netflix Original about black Italian youths, has been put on hold. Netflix declined to comment.

John Hopewell, Nick Vivarelli, Naman Ramachandran and Leo Barraclough contributed to this report. 

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