Annecy 2020 digital
Screen

Virtual events are here. Is the industry ready?

As markets and conferences go digital, execs from MIFA, CMC and MIPTV, as well as producers and broadcasters, weigh in on the ups and downs of the shift.
June 11, 2020

When MIPTV was cancelled, producer Jonathan Clarke was ready to shelve his development project. But when word came that the annual event would be held online, he had a just 24 hours to bring Distillery Films’ Sullivan Sails (pictured, below) to life in a virtual pitch—something he’d never done before.

The pitch went well, and the event itself gave him the opportunity to bring his show to a broader audience. But no matter how successful those digital interactions were, they couldn’t replace face-to-face meetings with others in the industry, he says.

“It was fun to be a part of this new format,” says Clarke. “But the market portion of the event was lacking, and without broadcasters to engage with, it was hard to enjoy.”

The B2B event industry generates US$30 billion annually, according to market research firm Statista, with conferences, summits and markets representing key opportunities for prodcos. Before the pandemic, the number of people attending these events was only expected to grow. But now COVID-19 has made online interactions the norm, and businesses that rely on face-to-face networking and interaction—like MIPTV, the Children’s Media Conference (CMC) and Annecy—were forced to adapt in a hurry. While some in the kids industry see value in online events—and the consensus is that there will be an increasing trend towards incorporating more digital touchpoints into future markets—for many, nothing will replace the real deal of live conferences.

Sullivan Sails (1)

Rush to market

When France banned large gatherings of more than 5,000 people in early March, MIPTV producer Reed MIDEM had four weeks to digitize—no small feat. Branded as MIPTV online+, the entire conference was organized remotely. The team also had to learn how to use the webinar platform ON24, which it adopted to host sessions, says Lucy Smith, deputy director of Reed MIDEM’s TV division.

Conference sessions—including panel presentations and trend reports—were pre-recorded and made available in a VOD format based on feedback from past attendees who said they were looking for unlimited access, Smith says.

Overall, she views the event as a success: 5,000 people participated in the online viewing (MIPTV typically draws a crowd of 9,000), with attendees consuming around 3,500 hours of content. However, because the shift online occurred in such a short time frame, MIPTV online+ wasn’t able to fully replicate the networking component of the event, Smith says.

This is a pressing issue as networking opportunities are the backbone of any conference. With costs ranging into the thousands (up to US$2,100 for premium access to markets like MIPCOM), coupled with the costs for travel and accommodations, content alone rarely draws participants.

To meet that demand moving forward, Smith hopes to find a happy medium with content, connecting people in one-on-one meetings, and offering virtual screening rooms where groups can watch pitches collectively.

“With online events, you lose the shared experience and feeling of being in a room with other people,” says Smith. “But we have learned a lot from this, and I want to do more in the digital space to complement our future in-person events.”

Testing 1, 2, 3

CMC is also trying to strike a balance between content and networking, using the additional months it had for planning to test its digital capabilities. In an effort to gain some insights in the lead-up to its virtual event planned for July, CMC began rolling out weekly one-hour webinars through Zoom in April. Made available on YouTube and the CMC’s homepage, the webinars cover topics including freelancing in a pandemic, research into what’s being commissioned now, and how kidcos can support children in lockdown. CMC is also using the networking platform Meeting Mojo, which costs around US$800 to license and allows delegates to schedule and host one-on-one calls with other attendees.

CMC is going to stream webinar sessions and online keynotes between July 6 to July 10 to avoid overloading delegates while they’re at home, says CMC editorial director Greg Childs. It will also provide delegates with the ability to build their own conference schedules, and view on-demand content.

Unlike the captive audience at a venue, organizers can’t predict people’s at-home situation. Will audiences tune in for the entire day, or will they be distracted when an important email comes up, or a toddler refuses to nap? But to build engagement during the event, CMC is also going run online social events.

There are also concerns that, as the novelty wears off, people will lose interest in virtual events.

“I am concerned that people will get tired of managing their meetings, their social life, their cultural life and then business intel through the same platforms,” Childs says. “The way we are approaching it is by not doing too much—just once a week, and keeping it to two pieces of content an hour.”

Childs sees growth opportunities for the conference as it moves online, including connecting with students or far-flung producers who may not otherwise have been able to attend.

Overall, he’s not worried about the future of markets. “Our conversations will change, and the topics we address must be different now, but there’s always going to be a place for those of us who create face-to-face events because people in the industry are always looking to connect with one another in person,” he says.

The event’s full program of sessions and speakers will be announced on the CMC website ahead of the conference.

Missed connections

After hearing from attendees that networking is a must-have, Annecy International Animated Film Festival’s MIFA market is prioritizing one-on-one meetings as it transitions to a digital format. Originally scheduled to run from June 15 to 20, the event—which last year drew 12,300 attendees—scaled back its conference segment because it didn’t have the time to handle both content and networking, says Véronique Encrenaz, head of MIFA.

Most MIFA events and meetings will take place June 16 to 19, with producers’ pitches pre-recorded and published on Annecy’s website. To prep for the online version, the team is building out its site with new features, including virtual stands for prodcos to showcase content, and a video library to host pitches and screenings.

MIFA will integrate one-onone meetings through online networking platform meewiz, which both schedules and hosts calls.

“The two most important things we heard when we consulted with the industry was that producers needed to be able to pitch their projects, and that buyers and sellers required a chance to meet,” says Encrenaz. “So with budgets suddenly an issue, a smaller team because we had to cancel contracts, and six weeks to launch, we decided to focus on those features to draw people.”

But even with companies focusing on creating those opportunities to connect online, many feel that the je ne sais quoi of a live pitch meeting can’t been captured digitally.

Zia Bales, Turner’s senior acquisitions manager for EMEA, judged the kids series pitches at MIPTV online+, and while she was impressed by the quality of the shows, she felt the “essence of a pitch” was lost because a big part of the process is feeling a producer’s passion for their project in the room.

That’s not to say it’s all bad: LoveLove Films’ Georgina Hurcombe managed to parlay her passion into a strong showing at MIPTV online+ this year. Her show Pop Paper City won the kids series pitch, and she was named a producer to watch. But even so, Hurcombe agrees that nothing compares to an in-person event.

“I think it’s great to physically go to markets where you will have numerous opportunities such as pre-arranged meetings,” she says. “[But] often it’s the chance encounters and opportunities that [spontaneously] present themselves that can really open doors.”

About The Author
Online writer for Kidscreen. Have a story that's of interest to Kidscreen readers? Contact Ryan at rtuchow@brunico.com

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