As shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders begin to be lifted across the US, I reached out to Mark Harrison, managing director of DPP, a business network for the media industry based in London, for his thoughts.
I’ve interviewed Mark several times over the years and have always found his opinions worth reading. This interview is no exception. Here’s our conversation, conducted via email.
Larry: What are your thoughts on how the broader media industry will restart after we are released from current stay-at-home orders?
Mark: In my view the wider industry has been slow to appreciate the obvious: that everything flows from production – and that means that when production is interrupted there is a delay effect. So, while production halted almost overnight in March, and experienced a major trauma, much of the rest of the industry hadn’t yet been impacted directly, and so remained oddly positive.
It could be very different come the autumn, however. By that time the broader industry will be starting to feel the effects of an interruption in the supply of content, together with the wider impacts on revenue that have come from a global crisis. This means restart will coincide with a climate of anxiety, austerity and content scarcity throughout the industry.
On the more positive side, creatives are driven to create – so they will seize any opportunity to start making content again. This period of scarcity will be quickly followed by an explosion of creativity and innovation as we emerge from lockdown – but all within the context of constrained budgets and a turbulent supply chain.
Larry: Are we trapped in a world of Zoom videos for the foreseeable future?
Mark: If anyone talks to you about a ‘new normal’ they just aren’t thinking about how humans really respond to change. Moments of upheaval typically accelerate pre-existing trends, while also re-confirming fundamental and instinctive human behaviours. It is remarkable – and brilliant – how quickly we all adapted to lockdown, and how we all redefined the way we work. But I expect us to be equally amazed how quickly we begin to revert to established behaviours as soon as it is permissible. Yes, we will all use video-based communication tools more from now on. Oddly, I think we have all discovered we get truly international relationships more easily when we drop our assumption that we have to meet in person. But, despite that, the moment we can meet in person we will. The constraint is likely, in my view, to come more from financial constraints on travel and hospitality budgets, than from health concerns.
Larry: Our current pandemic requires social distancing. Yet, media is built on collaboration – especially for production. How do you see production evolving when we can’t be together?
Mark: I think companies face a real challenge here. On the one hand they will be urged – and perhaps required – to restart with physical distancing measures in place, and these will carry significant costs and difficulty. But then they may find that the requirement for such measures will fall away quite quickly – at which point they will need totally the opposite kind of workspace!
Many companies will find it helpful to ask themselves how they feel they and their customers should work when this is all over. Those companies will make bold decisions about what which activities should now be carried out remotely, and which ones really do need physical presence. They will also look at how they might adapt their environments to be able to switch in and out of ‘distanced’ and remote modes in the event an outbreak such as this should happen again.
Larry: Broadcast television has been decimated by the fall-off in advertising. What are your thoughts on the long-term survivability of ad-supported media?
Mark: Like everything around this crisis, I think this is a complicated picture.
Just before the pandemic began, the industry was buzzing with talk of a resurgence in ad-supported content! We should remember that: there was a reason for it. And that reason was that there are only so many subscription based services any person or household can sustain. There are also a lot of brands that need to communicate with their customers – and, though we don’t like to admit it, a lot of consumers who want to know about products.
So my expectation is that many brands will look to recommence their spend around media, but in more intelligent, sustainable ways – such as by supporting the creation of content. Branded content could really boom after this.
But once again, let’s not forget the economic realities of coming out of a pandemic. On the one hand we are going to be in a period of financial uncertainty. Lots of brands made much cheaper, simpler spots during lockdown. They may well continue to do so for a while longer – and will most likely seek to pay less to place them. But on the other hand it is reasonable to assume there will be a short term surge in consuming spending, as we all seek to reward ourselves for months of abstinence. That could actually cause a (perhaps temporary) boom in ad-funded content.
Larry: As the world continues to consume media online, rather than in theaters or broadcast, how does that impact the nascent trend of 8K images? No home has the bandwidth to support viewing 8K.
Mark: Historically our industry has been very poor at intuiting how our technological advances will be interpreted by consumers. Personally, I have always felt this obsession with whether or not people are able to watch 8K is a continuation of our tendency to view innovation through the logic of the broadcast engineer’s test lab.
Any visit to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (let’s see if that happens again in January!) shows us that display manufacturers have almost given up defining their products by the latest quality innovation. All that matters to consumers is that their display is ‘really good,’ and that the content they watch on it looks and sounds great. With time, resolutions – and every other kind of picture and sound quality development, as well as delivery networks – will steadily evolve in support of an ever shifting definition of ‘really good.’ Meanwhile, the display will cease to be something we only see in the living room. Out of home video is going to be a huge growth market in the next decade. And that will often mean very big screens that do require super high definition content – and, yes, do enable the consumer to watch from the appropriate distance as defined by the test lab!
Larry: As you look at the next three months, very short term, what do you see happening?
Mark: I suspect we will move into a period where behaviours are more conditioned by personal viewpoints and social consensus, rather than by formal regulation. This is going to be immensely challenging for individual companies. They will make judgements about how to work with both their employees and customers that may well define how they are regarded for years to come. This pandemic is going to make or break reputations.
This is why it is so important that we all communicate and share experiences in the months ahead. The decisions we need to take will be too difficult to take in a vacuum. Knowledge will be empowering.
Larry: Thanks, Mark, for taking the time to share your thoughts. I look forward to reading the comments of our readers.
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