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Finding the silver lining in a pandemic

Things are scary right now, but Thunderbird/Atomic CEO Jennifer McCarron says some good can come out of this crisis.
March 31, 2020

As the panic subsides and people settle into a new routine, COVID-19 offers many producers a chance to take stock of their business and look at making changes execs may have avoided were they not forced into this situation, says Thunderbird Entertainment’s CEO Jennifer McCarron (pictured) in an interview with Kidscreen. Between changing how often people travel to opening up new, more flexible work-from home-policies, this situation has the potential to shake up the way the kids industry goes about the day-to-day.

Starting two weeks ago, Thunderbird’s animation division Atomic Cartoons closed its offices in Ottawa and LA, with staff transitioning to home work spaces. But the 3D-work that the Vancouver office takes on was more difficult to move, and required a bit of rejigging. So as new cloud access software licenses trickled in from Teradici and a firewall arrived (“I’ve never been so excited to see a piece of tech come in, in my life,” says McCarron), a few of the Vancouver employees continued to come into the office, scattered across several floors.
Thunderbird has now transitioned all of its more than 1,000 people (more than 700 of which work for Atomic) to working from home, as of yesterday.

“We’ve been able to do the proper social distancing while doing shift work and having some people working from home,” says McCarron. “But not every company has that luxury and now they’re in really tough spots in terms of layoffs.”

“In addition to ensuring the safety of our teams and their families, we are also working closely with our industry peers to share our plans and ideas on how we can lift the industry together,” says McCarron in a statement released on Friday. “We’re hopeful that as countries work to stabilize the health crisis, the entire industry can rebound quicklyand we are committed to doing our part to make this happen.”

But despite the logistical headaches and overarching stress the pandemic has placed on the industry, McCarron says there’s a silver lining,  particularly for the kids space, which may have been reluctant in the past to let the majority of employees take work home. Now, with no choice but to allow employees to shift to home offices, companies are forced to figure out what are the best ways of doing that to continue to maintain delivery schedules.

“We would never have done such a full-scale work from home initiative had something like this not happened,” says McCarron. “We’re forced into massive testing.” But she adds, the shift will also force the company to examine its processes, potentially leading to the discovery of new efficient solutions and cutting out inefficient policies. Longer term, she also see opportunity to find reduction on things like rent, as in the future Thunderbird will be able to offer staff more flexibility (and thus, requiring less office space).

While there was a large upfront cost to shifting employees out of the office, over the course of, say, three years, “the gains [through things like rent reduction or new efficiencies], we will make will more than pay off,” says McCarron.

The transition also presents a huge opportunity in terms of limiting travel. The media industry is reliant on travel for face-to-face meets with broadcasters and production partners, with large-scale conferences like MIPCOM at the epicentre of many of these strategies. Yet, with the closure of borders and the cancellation of conferences on the rise, this is an opportunity to look at the overall cost—not just financial, but also environmental, McCarron says.

In the wake of the pandemic, she plans on being more critical about when she and her execs need to get together, and when they need to meet with outside partners, or if in the future these face-to-face meetings can be replaced with Zoom calls.

Looking to the more immediate future, this is also a big opportunity for a lot of animation producers, McCarron points out. Since a lot of live-action content is postponed indefinitely, animation could rise up to fill those content demands that streamers are facing.

“Content is really needed right now, people need a healthy escape,” says McCarron. “Ultimately people need to be open to new business models and look at ways to create content that didn’t exist before.”

About The Author
Alexandra Whyte is Kidscreen's News & Social Media Editor. Contact her at awhyte@brunico.com

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