‘There’s a need for content now more than ever’: how Coronavirus is impacting the video production industry
Covid-19 has changed the way we live, work, and interact with one another overnight. It’s brought about the biggest ever test of remote working technology, with many video production companies – which are typically bandwidth-hungry and reliant on high-end servers and storage solutions – facing particular challenges. So is the pandemic affecting the sector?
Nemorin CEO and founder Pete Fergusson was invited to join an online panel discussion organised by the DPP (Digital Production Partnership) and IABM (International Trade Association for the Broadcast & Media Industry), and attempted to answer that question.
He joined Helena Tait, COO of Nutopia, the TV production company behind The World According to Jeff Goldblum; Keith Scholey, Co-CEO of Silverback Films, the natural history specialists whose credits include Our Planet for Netflix; Adrienne Gormley, VP global customer experience and head of EMEA at Dropbox; Maarten Vervaest, CEO of Limecraft, the cloud-based video production company; Jeff Rosica, CEO & president of Avid; and Morwen Williams, head of UK operations at BBC News.
Productions have ground to a halt
Now that film crews can no longer travel or move freely outside, live action productions have been largely put on hold. Shoots have been cancelled; Silverback Films has returned all of its crews to the UK. When you’re working on the industry’s biggest blue chip natural history productions, this is a huge undertaking with major economic ramifications.
The stories from all the production companies were similar. They saw it coming.
Although there are wildlife filmmakers around the world that can work remotely, the productions are British-produced and there’s a duty of care for those filmmakers. “We made plans to work from home and had plans to keep international productions going,” said Keith. “But it became quite clear quite quickly that we had to bring them back home.”
Nemorin and Nutopia had similar experiences, with shoots in Mexico, continental Europe and the US all being cancelled despite best efforts to keep them going.
However, in the world of news journalism, things are quite different. “When everybody else is running away from something we’re usually running towards it,” said Morwen Williams, head of UK operations at BBC News.
With camera operators and sound recordists unable to work from home, but still needed to document events and inform the public, news crews have been deemed essential workers.
“We’ve had to put a lot of extra things in place – the cleaning and sterilisation of equipment, simple things like not letting staff travel together in vehicles, using long boom poles to keep reporters at a distance, just to try and keep everybody safe. Instead of putting an editor, reporter, producer and camera operator in the back of a van as a remote edit suite, the crew sit in separate vans and communicate over Zoom. There’s a big risk assessment on every job.”
Post-production is unaffected
From a Nemorin perspective a temporary pause on shooting is manageable in the short-term, because there is plenty of post-production work to keep us busy. Our editors can access the central NAS (network attached storage) remotely, and have already prepared local hard drives filled with live projects to keep things moving from remote edit suites.
Teams in each of the production companies on the panel have adapted quickly to working in all corners of the UK. At Nemorin, we will undoubtedly make greater use of stock footage, motion graphics and animation, all of which can be done without anyone having to leave their homes.
Nutopia’s Helena said that, “One of the good things to come about from this is the excellent communication between people to solve problems. We’ve embraced video calling and my team has never been closer. And when I speak to people now, a call isn’t enough. I want to see their face.”
The team at Nemorin holds twice-daily meetings to ensure nothing is forgotten and all projects are kept on track, as well as providing a sense of community and fostering team cohesion.
One of Pete’s takeaways was that this has shown that “remote working can be really successful, and increase productivity hugely. It’s so important to have the right team with the right mental attitude. This is a moment where a hive mind can work really well.”
But can productions survive on animation and motion graphics alone? Without being able to shoot, we will need to find ways of telling brand stories that don’t involve live action if we’re in lockdown for several months.
This is an opportunity
Despite the challenges, the industry’s outlook is positive and optimistic. While some agencies and production companies may struggle to survive, it’s an opportunity for the industry to take a long look at itself and hit the reset button. Agencies, brands and creatives will come out the other side stronger as they will have to work harder than ever to find creative solutions in a changed world.
“This industry is very flexible,” said Helena. “There’s a need for content now more than ever. There’s plenty we can do with re-versioning old content, and remote filming. I remain optimistic there will be content that is still being made, but nobody can predict it at the moment.”
“Everybody is feeling a weird mix of panic but also excitement for the future,” said Pete, “to potentially reimagine advertising as we know it.” Broadcasters will likely be tightening their budgets even further in the coming months, but this presents more of an opportunity for co-funded productions with brands.
“I believe media companies and technology providers can emerge from this even stronger,” said Jeff Rosica, the CEO and president of industry-leading post-production software Avid. “Business priorities in 2020 have changed, and we need to help the community find new ways of working. The solution for us to help people has been as simple as just switching on capabilities that they already had but maybe didn’t even realise.
“We’re seeing a lot of people experiment,” he continued. “They’re reaching for new ways of doing things, and quite often it’s successful which is surprising people. Beyond getting everybody back on track, our hope is that this tough period will actually yield some new paths to greater cost efficiency and productivity.”
The media production industry won’t stop – we just need to rethink how we do it.
If you missed the event and would like to catch up on how coronavirus is affecting the media industry, DPP and IABM members can download it here.