One year after COVID-19 was officially declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, Kidscreen asks distributors around the world to reflect on how they have been affected, and what they’re worried about next.
What was your biggest concern last April, and how did things turn out?
Jessica Brinder, VP of international distribution for Genius Brands International (US): The concern from a distribution perspective was how budgets for buyers would be impacted for the rest of 2020 and beyond. The budget issues are still challenging because productions and commissions have been pushed out, and ad revenue is still a concern.
Fabien Ching, manager of global sales and licensing for Asia at Boat Rocker Media (Hong Kong): [My concerns were] layoffs, business for the company, slashed budgets from my buyers, [and] the lack of in-person interaction with my clients since all markets were suspended. The business end turned out OK, and [Boat Rocker] has been quite supportive to its staff. Everyone [tries] to keep up with each other on Zoom, but to be honest, real person-to-person interaction is still something we’re missing.
Alix Wiseman, SVP of distribution and acquisitions for 9 Story Media Group (Ireland): Our biggest concern was that there would be significantly diminished acquisition budgets or a decline in full commissions. We have felt very supported by our long-standing partners, and were pleased to see that we got a healthy number of commissions, [including Netflix greenlighting Karma's World], during a time of so much uncertainty for so many.
Dominic Gardiner, CEO of Jetpack Distribution (UK): The overall health of the market and cashflow were concerns. We were also worried about deals being cancelled, and the approvals process becoming more challenging. There was a concern about how we would maintain the momentum that you need as a sales organization. By end of summer, most people had transitioned—producers were able to move to remote working, and most of the broadcasters and buyers were doing the same.
What has the biggest change to your business been in the last year?
Anish Mehta, CEO, Cosmos-Maya (Singapore): The edtech sector saw an unprecedented bump, since the classroom had become digital, and more parents started investing money in specialized education. Even in terms of licensing and merchandising, our kids animation brand Wow Kidz has found space in the edtech sector. We recently announced a partnership with UK-based education portal Twinkl for our title Vir The Robot Boy.
Nicolas Eglau, managing director of EMEA and APAC for Moonbug Entertainment (UK): The most prominent change was the acquisition of CoComelon and Blippi. We have integrated these companies into our day-to-day business—from production, to running their YouTube business, to pitching content, to including them in ad campaigns.
Gardiner, Jetpack: Not attending markets has been a challenge because there is no physical point of sale. Our approach to marketing has changed. There are no print mags, so investment in digital and direct mail/email has been higher. We launched “Behind the Blast” [Q&A interviews with creatives driving the shows in our catalogue] to give clients more access to behind-the-scenes content with creatives and producers. We wanted them to feel our presence, and we wanted to provide some interesting content in an otherwise bleak period. There is more virtual screenings activity both at markets and in bought media.
Wiseman, 9 Story: The biggest change to our business would be the heavy reliance on video conferencing technologies, which can be draining, but has also afforded us the opportunity to meet regularly with both internal colleagues and external clients in a way that was previously logistically impossible.
What new concerns do you have for 2021?
Ching, Boat Rocker: More global/international OTT players have confirmed entry [into] Asia this year. What changes they will bring to already changing viewing habits, and how they will affect the acquisition scene, is something we’ll be watching closely.
Wiseman, 9 Story: This year, we are interested in maintaining a work-life balance and trying our best to avoid Zoom fatigue. We are also all looking forward to a time when we can meet our clients in person again.
Gardiner, Jetpack: Sometimes you feel a bit disconnected from what’s going on. There is very little networking, and while Zoom and virtual meetings are helpful, the connection is not as deep as when you meet someone for real. There are [many] senses denied by just doing things via a video call. It’s hard to make a lasting impression, and time zones can make things harder.
Brinder, Genius Brands: The lack of travel to our usual markets—particularly Kidscreen Summit and MIPJunior—has been challenging with respect to our personal relationships with business partners. That said, video conferencing, while not as ideal as in-person meetings, has been successful. The business issues continue to be budget shifts and constraints for partners, but there is movement, and hopefully we will continue in a positive direction.
Pictured, left to right, Anish Mehta, Alix Wiseman and Jessica Brinder