By Tim Gerhartz, SVP Global Sales, Red Arrow Studios International

Innovation and creativity come naturally to the TV industry, but the challenge of finding ways to still do business in a significantly changed marketplace has had to move at speed over the last few weeks.

Across the board, the industry has needed to react quickly, adapt, and forge new strategies which would have seemed unimaginable just a short while ago. And that goes just as much for our part of the industry – TV distribution – as for any other.

Following the cancellation of MIPTV, we needed a Plan B so we could uphold this important new product launch and sales period just as we would have in Cannes. We shifted our entire schedule of meetings to virtual ones, held online pitches with buyers and commissioners from all over the world, and utilised our online screening hub to showcase our Spring/Summer 2020 slate.

Over the course of our first ever digital market, we found the buying demands of broadcasters and platforms have understandably shifted as they cater to an audience in the midst of a global pandemic. As we follow up on our virtual MIPTV discussions, just as we would have done following a trip to Cannes, here are some of the key trends we observed over the last couple weeks, as the industry navigates this new distribution landscape:

1. Established and internationally recognised formats will continue to be a key driver

While it’s a challenging time for local format production, broadcasters are keen to extend the life of local formats that are already a success on their channels, serving up tried and tested content that will deliver the ROI they need. Therefore, the demand for finished tapes from other countries of their local format hits is thriving – particularly in the social experiment and reality genre. These tapes bring recognised brands with broad, proven audience appeal, and an extensive pipeline of episodes ready to go. We’re in a fortunate position to have hits like Married at First Sight in our catalog; shows that have generated many hours of finished tapes across numerous languages and are proven ratings-winners.

2. The value of TV Movies has never been stronger

TV Movies have always been an important element of our catalog but they are really proving their value now. As linear broadcasters have known for a long time, they offer a mix of easy-to-schedule, flexible content and are a convenient way to deliver stand-out programming and attract large, key-demographic audiences while entertaining the whole family. TV Movies are also undergoing a new wave of interest among SVOD players such as Netflix, who have seen the success their festive romcoms and titles like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.

3. Light-hearted, feel good entertainment will dominate schedules

The initial wave of programming that adapts to our current COVID-19 conditions, such as shows where presenters stream in from their homes or re-runs of historic sporting events, are not always delivering the numbers needed by networks, and the jury is out as to whether they will prove to be game-changers in the long-term.

As audiences continue to seek out the traditional entertainment styles they are used to, across an array of genres, broadcasters are looking to both our new slate and back catalog to find solutions for their schedules.
During our virtual MIPTV conversations, there was a strong interest in dramas with a comedy edge such as Californian Commando and Bad Mothers, and crime shows which are engaging but easy going and tonally lighter such as The Last Cop.

And discussions on local format adaptations are still on-going even if production isn’t currently possible. We are seeing an emphasis on fun and entertaining studio shows – with formats such as our new gameshow Balls to Dare, with its inventive and simple premise that’s easy for audiences to get on board with and enjoy, generating significant interest.

4. Enhanced marketing campaigns will be crucial

When you’re unable to get in the room with buyers and show them content in person, your marketing – especially digital marketing – becomes more important than ever, and we have been revising and enhancing our marketing strategies across the board.

We’re continuing to find new approaches which allow us to push out content, trailers and assets to an ever wider network of buyers in a structured way. For a long time we’ve talked about whether b2c entertainment marketing strategies should be core inspiration for our own b2b activity. Is the way that theatrical distributors engage consumers in new releases over a slowly-building and comprehensive campaign – with snippets, teasers, press activity and trailers to build a story and create an overarching narrative – inspiration for our activity? As our business shifts, making direct connections with our clients over extended periods, in creative and memorable ways, has become an imperative.

5. It will always be a people’s business

Going through this virtual market serves to highlight what a resilient and resourceful community of like-minded professionals the international TV industry is and our ability to pull together should be celebrated. It was certainly an interesting, useful and thought provoking experience for us and there are definitely lessons we can take from it.

However, in a creative business like ours you can’t beat personal connections to develop the sort of relationships that are needed to make this industry really thrive. So while conference and video calls will help us all get through these challenging times ahead, we are certainly looking forward to a time when we can connect with all our partners old and new, and do business together, in a good, old fashioned, face to face meeting!

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*This comment piece appeared in C21 Media