Media Play News asked the 12 “captains” in our third annual Women in Home Entertainment issue to participate in a detailed Q&A about their careers and the challenges of COVID-19, which truly has made 2020 a year like no other. We also asked some fun questions to liven, and lighten, things up. An abridged Q&A appears in the August 2020 print and digital edition of Media Play News. The full Q&A has been broken down into three sections, running here on consecutive days. This is the second part, on the impact of COVID-19 on their working and personal lives — and on our business.
CAPTAINS OF HOME ENTERTAINMENT: WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY, PART TWO
How has your work life changed with COVID-19?
Sarah Aubrey, Head of Original Content, HBO Max: Working from home has been an immense change not without its challenges, but we are all still working at the same incredible pace as we were in the office. Our teams have persevered, managing launching a platform alongside home schooling and shared spaces. Because of the determination of our teams, we were able to launch HBO Max on schedule and continue to debut and create new Max Originals, all from our homes. We have had to adjust how we tackle things day to day, but we are still accomplishing them, and with a level of quality that I think only this team could achieve. I keep reminding everyone, “Guys, when you have a baby, that’s not the end, that’s the beginning.” We are just at the beginning with HBO Max and I am excited to share everything we still have coming.
Kelly Campbell, President, Hulu: While there have been some obvious changes and challenges transitioning to a remote work environment, I’ve also been energized by the more than 2,500 Hulugans who have worked hard to maintain our culture beyond the physical walls of our office space, provide support to their colleagues and continue to push our business forward. As a company leader during this uncertain time, my focus remains on the health and safety of our employees and making sure I’m present, available and proactively communicating with all Hulugans on a regular basis.
Agnes Chu, SVP, Content, Disney+: Like so many other working moms out there, it’s changed in many ways. Working from home has rewards and challenges. In between Zoom calls, I’m able to steal a hug or play a quick game with my 2-year-old daughter. I treasure that. But it can also be difficult to draw lines and have clear boundaries. With the help of my amazing husband, I’m learning new lessons every day in how to navigate and balance both.
Andrea Downing, Co-President, PBS Distribution: We went remote in mid-March and instituted weekly conference calls with the full team to keep everyone in the loop. We invited some of our vendors to join us periodically to meet the broader team and talk about the work they are doing and how they are being impacted by the pandemic. Because productions shut down, affecting content delivery and procurement, and some of our vendors closed, we have had to be nimble and creative and quickly adapt to changing circumstances. I am really proud of how our team came together and almost seamlessly managed all that has been thrown at them.
Kathleen Gallagher, EVP and Managing Director — North America, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment: While we have found ourselves working under the most unforeseen circumstances, I am especially proud of our team’s ability not only to navigate and excel in the face of the unprecedented challenges currently facing our industry, but to achieve such exceptional outcomes, as evidenced with The Invisible Man and, most recently, Trolls World Tour. Personally, much like everyone else, I am still figuring out the best way to balance office hours and family time. I have a 5-year-old son who has been out of school since March, and it is critical that I make time for him throughout the day. Of course, this isn’t easy as most of us are on back-to-back calls. It has been a unifying experience to get a glimpse into the home lives of our colleagues as kids and pets make guest appearances throughout the day. And, it has also been very empowering to see the broad support, compassion and respect around maintaining a work/life balance extend throughout the highest levels of our organization.
Hilary Hoffman, EVP, Global Marketing, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment: I am so incredibly proud of my marketing team, who so swiftly and skillfully adapted to working remotely. With Universal’s decision to release select films to PVOD coming right on the heels of the stay-at-home order, the team around the world faced a massive undertaking in determining quickly and effectively the best way to join together to deliver on this new and unprecedented consumer offer. Together we successfully led the way in helping to launch the new platform while at the same time continuing to maintain a robust traditional home entertainment business.
Kim Overall, EVP, Consumer Insights and Innovation, Sony Pictures Entertainment: I am learning that working remotely and virtually means we need to look out for one another in different ways and listen to what we need on an individual level. Creating new routines and rituals is really important as we adjust to our new ways of working, interacting and socializing. Asking questions and listening have never been so important as we seek to understand the moment we are in and know how best to help and support each other.
Cindy Holland, VP, Original Content, Netflix: Like everyone, I’m spending more time on video conferences than I ever imagined, and a lot less time at industry events. And it’s always casual Friday, but I’ve never been that formal anyway.
Dametra Johnson-Marletti, GM, Digital Store Category Management, Microsoft Corp.: First, my heart goes out to the many lives that have been lost and families that have been impacted by COVID-19. From a work life perspective, Microsoft has been working remote since mid-March. With some minor enhancements, I was able to replicate the comfort of my Microsoft on-campus office. That, combined with the power and impact of Microsoft Teams meeting and collaboration technology has given us the ability to continue to drive business results, serve our customers, and collaborate with our partners in a very meaningful way. What I do miss most is seeing my co-workers every day. I work with a great group of people and it’s really hard in this environment to replicate the impromptu hallway chats or those quick office pop-in-type conversations — both work and social catch-up topics.
Jessica Schell, EVP and GM, Film, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment: We are busier than ever, and the work is incredibly challenging, which is a welcome respite from the monotony brought on by so many other things being shut down — travel, socializing and in-person meetings, to name a few. My whole career has focused on navigating changes in technology and consumer behavior, but the speed of change has exponentially accelerated. We are forced to find creative solutions and new ways of doing things on the fly, building the train while it is going down the track.
Amy Jo Smith, President and CEO, DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group: Since COVID-19 and working from home, I’ve found the DEG team is working more efficiently, but with some loneliness. We are on call all day, but also have time to slip in a walk with dogs or do a load of laundry. The days blend together and the hours start earlier and end later. I buy gas once a month, wear pants with no zippers and haven’t worn shoes without laces.
Lexine Wong, Senior EVP, Worldwide Marketing, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment: I vividly remember my last day in the office. We ended the day celebrating a new partnership with our Sony Music partners in a small conference room with 30 people, drinking tequila and eating tapas from one of their sponsors. We said “see you in a bit” … and now 20 weeks later we are still working from home. Like many studios we were immediately faced with the challenge of theaters closing and focused quickly on getting our recent theatrical releases out on home entertainment. I was worried about my team feeling disconnected and wanted to make sure information was disseminated in real time without having to send tons of emails, so I instituted a “daily check-in” on Microsoft Teams for everyone on the marketing team. We continue to have them, and anyone in the marketing organization can join and add items to the daily agenda. Working from home has changed the entire social ecosystem, and I think many of us look forward to being back together and enjoying the camaraderie from in-person meetings, grabbing a quick coffee or lunch and touching base in the hallways when it’s safe to do so.
How has your personal life changed?
Aubrey: As much as my kids can drive me crazy, it’s been a real joy getting to spend more time together than we would have were I in the office. And I’ve been cooking more. My beef enchiladas have hit a new level of deliciousness.
Downing: I have been able to spend more time with my family, an unexpected benefit of the pandemic, and I am grateful that we are all healthy and managing well. I am acutely aware that there are so many who are not so fortunate. Without the commute I have more hours in the day, so I have been getting outside to walk or run consistently. It is challenging to not be able to get together with friends or travel the way that I used to, but I connect frequently through voice and video calls.
Holland: Way more time indoors, though I still find time for a daily bike ride.
Johnson-Marletti: On the homefront there were definite bright spots. The greatest by far has been the quality family time that has been created by by everyone being quarantined at home. Like many who work every day, especially working moms, the pace of life felt like a treadmill on high prior to the shutdown. The constant balance of work commitments, commute time, family activities, and other daily tasks seem to consume most hours. So, the instant slowing of life was quite enjoyable and really allowed us time together that we would not have otherwise had. All of that said, we have really started to miss the many wonderful things that create enjoyable variability in life, like travel, sports (pro and youth), concerts, and getting together with lots of friends, especially during the summer. We greatly look forward to when those things are once again the norm.
Schell: Since most activities outside the home are canceled, my immediate family is spending a lot more time together! That’s been a silver lining, being able to grab lunch with my 4-year-old and being home for dinner the moment my last meeting is over rather than having to commute in traffic. Like everyone else I’ve been catching up with old friends across geographies, like a monthly virtual meet-up of my business school section classmates.
Wong: With nowhere to go, you would have thought being quarantined at home with my husband and two kids (high school and college age) would have been pretty mellow … not so much, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. Being forced to hang out and spend mealtimes together made for lots of interesting discussions. We experimented with lots of new recipes, planted a garden to try to create the “farm-to-table” experience (four kinds of tomatoes, kale, Swiss chard, bok choy, eggplant, shishito peppers), participated in Zoom workouts, started our college kid on Robinhood to create a stock portfolio (Shopify was huge!) and worked on a ton of house projects, from organizing to building shelving and varnishing tables — Marie Kondo watch out! We even started composting!
Where do you work at home? Did you already have a home office, or did you have to modify a space?
Aubrey: My home office is wherever I can find space for my laptop. My new office is my chair in the corner of my bedroom and then with my kids in the dining room.
Downing: I have a home office that I had to modify slightly to video conference effectively, primarily from a technology standpoint. I am still working on finding a way to keep my cats out of the picture — they always show up and insert themselves in my calls. They are now well-known across the company!
Gallagher: I didn’t have a home office. I started at the dining table. That lasted about a week. I created a mini office in the corner of the guestroom, which I later enhanced with a treadmill. I spend a lot more time looking at the treadmill than I do running on it! Aside from that, the setup is functional and comfortable, and having the distinct space definitely helps me transition between work and family mode.
Holland: I already had a home office.
Johnson-Marletti: I already had a home office set up, and really just needed a few modifications to replicate my on-campus work space, like getting a double monitor (life-changing), bringing home my comfy ergonomic chair and investing in a good webcam. I also upgraded my espresso machine — it’s not as good as the Microsoft version, but it does the job.
Overall: I modified a little spot upstairs that lets me look out onto the road, and I filled the walls with photos, quotes and other things that make me happy.
Schell: I converted a guest bedroom, which has conveniently been empty since none of our East Coast family or friends can come visit. But I find that mixing it up helps keep me sane: spending time outside when the weather permits, or in the living room in the rare moments when my house is quiet. My home office can really be wherever my laptop is.
Smith: I have a home office but have given it to my daughter so she has quiet space for her virtual school. As a result, I’m in the kitchen as anyone who has been on a video call with me can confirm.
Wong: My original home office was in an open area which didn’t work at all due to all the noise with the kids being home, so I ended up setting up camp in an extra bedroom. I bought a better printer and slowly started acquiring office staples like a small filing cabinet, desk organizers, etc. as I realized we probably wouldn’t be heading back to our offices for a while.
What’s the best thing about remote working?
Aubrey: Wearing my pajama pants.
Downing: Watching the way our team adapted to the new situation so quickly. They really leaned in and figured out how to work remotely while supporting their teams and managing their family obligations. Our weekly conference calls created an opportunity for a broader selection of team members to give updates on the business, which has led to greater transparency and sharing ideas for adapting our business as issues arise.
Gallagher: I have been so impressed by our team’s ability to quickly embrace and thrive in this new way of working. A great example is how swiftly and easily we are able to assemble the right group of people together for meetings. What previously may have taken days or weeks to schedule when we were in the office often now can take a matter of hours to accomplish. This ability to effectively adapt to a new work style and function nimbly has served us well in maintaining momentum, quality and consistency with both customers and consumers. That — and being able to wear sweats every day!
Hoffman: We have experienced meaningful upside in working together remotely. In particular, there is a special feeling of unity that we are all in it together.
Holland: The flexibility to work from anywhere.
Johnson-Marletti: NO COMMUTE! Seattle commute times were difficult — not L.A. difficult, but getting there, and the commute was even worse when it rained (if you can believe that). So, getting all that time back has been great and has further allowed for greater productivity at work and better balance at home.
Overall: I get to hear the voice of my 6-year-old son playing downstairs when I am working and it always fills my heart with happiness and makes me smile.
Schell: Since no one can be physically together, it puts everyone around the globe on an equal footing. When I’m working across different departments with people who usually sit in different buildings, or working on releases around the world, I’ve found that communication has actually improved. Since we aren’t limited by who is in the room, we can reach out to a broader set of people and leverage more opinions and expertise than we could before.
Smith: I’m grateful to see my daughter throughout the day and share a laugh with her. It’s nice not to be on the road stuck in traffic. I love being able to spend more time with my daughter and husband.
Wong: Saving commute time, less pressure on deciding what to wear every day since it’s only my top half that I worry about, and being able to walk my dog at lunch. Because we are social creatures at heart, the ease of turning our cameras on for every Zoom/Teams call has helped reinforce connections with colleagues — and it’s been fun to get a little glimpse into our colleagues’ personal lives.
What is the downside?
Aubrey: Wearing my pajama pants!
Downing: I miss seeing everyone in person and having the impromptu conversations that happen during a typical workday. It is easier to pull a number of people together on short notice when you’re in the same office and challenging to do that when we are remote and juggling multiple work schedules.
Hoffman: The downside is the loss of spontaneous dialogue and ideation as a team. And we all miss the hallway and elevator conversations that extended beyond business into personal life. The loss of our ability to travel also has been a challenge. While international business can definitely be managed by video call, nothing replaces the opportunity to gather together in the same time zone and work with your colleagues in real time.
Holland: The flexibility to work from anywhere, and the perception that one is always available.
Johnson-Marletti: The downside by far been has been not seeing the fun, smart and amazing people I get to work with each day, having impromptu meetings, catching up on each other’s lives while grabbing coffee, or having lunch together. I will most definitely appreciate those times far more when they return.
Overall: I have to confess, I miss the office! The rate of change in our industry is so rapid right now and has been accelerated in some areas in the past few months. As we try to understand the changes in real time and solve for ways to respond I miss not being able to grab a coffee with one of the many wonderful thought partners in our business to talk through options together.
Schell: It’s harder to build a culture, and as a manager, harder to get an informal read on how the whole team is doing. No more walking the halls and chatting with whoever is around. That’s been particularly difficult when you know so many people are going through a hard time, and as we try to tackle sensitive topics like addressing diversity and inclusion.
Smith: I feel isolated from my office DEG teammates and the industry at large.
Wong: There’s no delineation of when the day starts and when it ends. With no commute time, you end up being “always on,” a blur of meetings every day, with one day running into the next … wash/rinse/repeat. You can imagine the fun we had re-promoting our movie Groundhog Day!
What impact is COVID-19 having on your business, and what are you doing about it?
Aubrey: Like everyone in our creative community, our productions and teams have been impacted by COVID-19, but fortunately we have been able to keep our programming slate on track and our teams have been incredibly inventive and have remained dedicated to our goals working at the same pace we had in the office. Our launch slate and planned summer programs have been set for some time and thankfully were mostly unaffected, but we did have some projects in production that were placed on hiatus while we figure out the best, and safest, path forward. The health and safety of our casts and crews are our first priority. Care for our employees, cast and crew are the most important consideration in all decision-making. But we are still really busy! We have several projects in post-production, with people working from the safety of their homes using editing rigs we provided. We were able to continue shooting the Max Original CNN Films documentary On The Trail as part of CNN’s news-gathering operation and have also greenlighted new series such as “Selena + Chef,” an unscripted cooking show starring Selena Gomez, and “Homeschool Musical,” a scripted series from Tony winner Laura Benanti. Both of these projects were born out of quarantine and demonstrate the innovation and creativity of the teams at HBO Max.
Campbell: It’s no secret that people are watching more television now that they are spending more time at home, and Hulu, like other streamers, has benefited from that. But I think our growth in 2020 has been less about the pandemic and more about the creativity and innovation we’ve brought to market this year. The Hulu Originals team led by Craig Erwich has delivered its most successful slate of originals ever, from “Little Fires Everywhere,” “Hillary” and “Ramy” — which just received Emmy nominations in major series categories — to breakout hits like “Normal People,” “Solar Opposites” and our original film Palm Springs. Through FX on Hulu, which we launched earlier this year in partnership with John Landgraf, we’ve provided viewers with even more Emmy-nominated series, like “Mrs. America” and “Devs.” Hulu’s technology and design teams introduced a newly redesigned interface that helps Hulu viewers find and discover the content they love more quickly. And on the advertising front we continue to introduce new non-traditional ad formats to provide the best experience possible to our viewers, and more-innovative solutions to brands. All of these things together are driving Hulu’s strong momentum this year.
Chu: Obviously, this is an unprecedented time. In so many ways it has reinforced the power of storytelling and its vital and indelible role in society. At a time when we can’t easily come together physically, people are looking for content that brings them together emotionally. Disney+, with our depth and breadth of library content and new multigenerational stories like “The Mandalorian,” “Encore!” and “Diary of a Future President,” is able to do just that. From a production standpoint, it’s obviously tough. COVID safety protocols are challenging us to find new ways of doing things. My team likes to say that creativity is the best antidote for road blocks. Whether it’s voiceover talent calling in their performances or musicians scoring content from home, we are able to complete and fine-tune projects that were already in process. We are also spending more time on the development process and writing new material. I really think that we’ll see a lot of interesting storytelling come out of this period of time — not just here but across the industry.
Downing: The biggest impact has been the growth of our subscription channels and TVOD revenue as a result of the stay-at-home orders and increase in streaming. With the disruption to content production and delivery, we’re thinking creatively about how to fill the content pipeline to ensure that we are well-positioned for the months ahead.
Gallagher: It has been encouraging to see a rebound in our catalog business over the past few months. We have so much content that consumers love and can look to for comfort and escape during this time. We have been partnering with retail to make sure shelves are stocked, and our brand team has been working to develop promotions and collections that can drive significant value for shoppers.
Holland: We’re fortunate to have great shows in the pipeline and we’re proud to be a place viewers are turning for comfort and escape at a really challenging time. We have some shows shooting outside the U.S., but there are many that are still paused here. Things won’t look exactly the same when we return to production, but we’re looking forward to it and are focused on our cast and crews’ welfare and safety.
Johnson-Marletti: Unlike many businesses across the country and world, during the pandemic, the e-commerce space has realized explosive growth and creative business model innovation. At the peak of the global shutdown and quarantine — around April — we saw many people turn to digital entertainment to fill their time, whether it was gaming online with friends, movie and TV consumption or just online shopping, we have seen new high-water marks across the business broadly. The many Microsoft teams that bring content and our services to life have done yeoman’s work in ensuring that our customers can find what they are looking for when they want. We have been very pleased with our ability to be there to connect customers to their community of friends and to our partner’s tremendous content during these challenging times.
Overall: We are very focused on listening to and understanding how our most-valuable entertainment consumers are changing their content consumption behaviors and preferences, from what and when they are viewing to how they are interacting on social media.
Schell: Our business has been dramatically affected in so many ways — production has been stalled, theaters are closed, and so many marketing tactics and channels have been shut down. At the same time, consumer demand to be entertained at home has skyrocketed, so there is a huge appetite for content at a time when there are no new theatrical releases. Scoob! had been intended for theaters, and with the marketing campaign underway, consumer products hitting stores and theaters closed, we released it under a new premium rental and ownership model and proved that audiences will show up for eventized in-home releases. We’ve also been filling the void by highlighting films from our vast library through different themes, and our catalog business is booming. And of course, we’ve thrown our support behind the launch of HBO Max. As the custodians of the Warner Bros. library, we have a vast repository of marketing assets and ancillary content and social communities at our disposal, there is so much we can provide the Max team to support their offering which draws heavily from Warner Bros. content.
How are you collaborating with colleagues and meeting with customers?
Aubrey: Our office is built on collaboration, so we are constantly working together over WebEx, checking in with our creative partners, and continuing to work on our slate in creative ways under these new circumstances. I am so impressed and proud of my team, and of the teams across the company, who have shown such resiliency and continued passion as we continue to make deals, write scripts and edit our programming from home.
Downing: I prefer video conferences if I am connecting for multiple agenda items or don’t know the person well, but often have quick phone calls with those I am regularly in touch with to discuss one or two issues.
Gallagher: Most of our communications and exchanges are happening primarily via video conference. I don’t know the last time I scheduled a regular phone call. We are all looking for that personal connection as we spend so much time in our homes.As much as it can be sometimes exhausting to be on video all day, I am really happy that this mode of interaction has become our norm.
Holland: Like everyone else, we’re on a lot of video conferences.
Johnson-Marletti: Primarily through Microsoft Teams. The Microsoft Teams Business Group has been working overtime to continue to innovate and evolve Teams based on customer feedback. This is the same technology my kids used during remote learning as well. Needless to say, our home bandwidth has really been working overtime.
Overall: Zoom, Teams, OWL — every piece of enabling technology we can get our hands on to stay as close to one another as we can.
Schell: All internal meetings have moved to video conferences on Teams, and depending on which customers we are meeting with, we use various other video conferencing systems, like Google Hangout when meeting with YouTube, of course! We work on shared digital documents together. It’s all technology that existed before, but until we were forced to use it, adoption was slow — we were more of a telephone and email culture. It works well because everyone is on the same level playing field, dealing with makeshift home offices, kids and pets in the background. If some people were in the office and some people at home I think it would have been much more difficult to make it work for those not in the office.
Smith: DEG quickly pivoted to a virtual meeting environment, bringing the industry together in small salon discussions and a larger expo where we invite expert speakers and members to share their perspectives and services that will help the industry grow.
Wong: One of the best things that has come out of the quarantine is the exceptional collaboration with the different divisions and departments across the studio. One of the most productive partnerships has been with our theatrical counterparts. Aside from the shortened windows, where we quickly passed the baton and leaned on each other’s expertise to develop the best go-to-market approach, we set up a marketing “stay-at-home” task force where we were able to brainstorm and prioritize a ton of ideas to support the catalog. Everyone rolled up their sleeves to help access talent and support the social handles, giving the commercial teams great marketing programs for our retail partners. We also did a similar task force with the TV production and marketing team which resulted in creative executions in the form of cast reunions, table reads and live Q&As.
How many Zoom or other video conference calls do you have in an average week?
Aubrey: Too many to count!
Downing: Pre-pandemic I had one or two video conferences per week. The last several months, I have averaged around 40 a week.
Gallagher: Somewhere around 30.
Holland: It varies, but they’re pretty much back to back.
Johnson-Marletti: Thirty-plus Microsoft Teams meetings each week.
Overall: The short answer is probably too many, but the reality is that it’s our new normal and I would much rather see people and be able to share a smile and a laugh than not!
Schell: I find that I spend most of the workday on video calls. That can be anything from a one on one to a presentation to hundreds of people. We’ve tried to institute companywide meeting-free lunch breaks and Fridays, so those times are a bit lighter. With California schools indefinitely closed, we will be re-looking at schedules in the fall to try to accommodate working parents who are doing double duty with kids at home.
Smith: Three to four a day.
Wong: Between 40 to 50 conference calls per week. Just a push of a key to the next meeting … join, leave, join, leave. It’s efficient, but not great for getting your steps in!
Has a return to the office date been set, and if so what changes are you expecting?
Aubrey: It is a company priority to restart television and film production, but care for our employees, cast and crew is the most important consideration in all decision-making, and we are prioritizing productions for our testing and safety resources. There are no imminent plans for my team to return to the office, but we are currently starting up smaller productions in consultation with local authorities, the unions and medical experts. There will definitely be changes to how our productions are run, and we will do everything we can to make sure that our employees, cast, crew and creative partners feel protected and comfortable each step of the way. With our wide range of formats and shooting locations, each production is different and will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Downing: We have not set a date for returning to the office because too many variables are in flux. We don’t know what is going to happen with schools and day care centers, which impacts many on our team, and we are mindful that some have health concerns for themselves or their families. We stay up to date with the guidance from local and national health officials and recommendations about opening offices. I am sure that when we go back, it will be a combination of remote and in the office and we will adapt as needed based on circumstances.
Johnson-Marletti: We will not return to the office prior to January 2021. Microsoft has done a terrific job communicating with all employees very broadly on a regular basis. The company prioritizes employee safety first, so when we do return, we are expecting to align to a clear set of guidelines and protocols meant to keep everyone safe and that contribute to flattening the curve.
Do you envision any long-term changes in our industry?
Aubrey: There has been a lot of innovation around using digital experiences and formats that I think will remain in place and be useful once we begin to reopen and restart productions, festivals and other large gatherings. By opening up once-exclusive events to a wider platform digitally, we are able to more freely share with the community and expand our reach to voices around the world.
Downing: It is difficult to anticipate how the industry will change long-term because this time in history is unprecedented. But I think more content will be available for streaming rather than in theaters, stressing an already challenged sector of the entertainment market, with continued consumer transition to subscription-based models. Given the uncertainty about how long we will be susceptible to this virus, and anticipating the possibility of another pandemic, I think that companies will be adapting their technology and work spaces to position themselves for greater resilience.
Johnson-Marletti: For sure, I think there will be lasting changes across the industry as a result of the global pandemic and how it’s been handled around the world. The entertainment industry as a whole feels like a continuous circle that has many interrelated dependent parts, each of which has been impacted in slightly different ways, which makes predicting the long-term effects on the whole ecosystem very difficult. For example, consumer confidence in returning to the theater is varied at this point and in many places not allowed at all. That puts enormous strain on both theater chains and studios, as they now have to decide on releasing straight to home entertainment or waiting for blockbuster-worthy theater-going crowds to return — the economics for these options are very different. Production is largely at a standstill, so the funnel for new-release content becomes smaller, which effects theaters, studios, broadcasters, and subscription and transactional services that rely on that content to attract and retain a consistent flow of customers. So again, the level of uncertainty across the ecosystem makes it hard to call where we’ll ultimately settle into a new normal. That said, creativity and business model evolution remains high, that coupled with the continued collaboration with our partners continues to be a bright point of hope for us.
Schell: Since so much business-as-usual isn’t possible, we’ve had the opportunity to experiment. We are figuring out how to do some things more efficiently and create new kinds of cultural moments. Across the industry, we’ve proved that audiences will show up for event in-home releases such as Scoob! and Trolls World Tour and gotten to see the impact on subscriptions of putting a huge event like Hamilton straight on to SVOD. With so much less event television programming and no live sports or awards shows, we’ve had to find more audiences on digital. Since in-person events aren’t possible, in lieu of premiere and fan conventions, we’ve been leveraging virtual audiences in Fortnite (Tenet trailer release) and on TikTok (#ScoobDance) and hosting virtual press junkets. We’re learning what can work better than the ways we’ve always done things, and what are sacred cows for a reason. Undoubtedly these learnings will influence how we go forward.
Smith: I foresee long-term changes to how we do business and how we function as a global community. I don’t think this will be unique to entertainment. I envision a business community where most meetings and transactions take place via video. And, we learn how to foster relationships and discussions via video conference.