Wednesday, June 3, 2020
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Staying Connected


Updating daily, Staying Connected features feedback from media executives across the globe about how the pandemic has impacted their lives and businesses.

We want to hear from you! Our goal is to start a conversation and create a sense of a community at a time when we can’t convene in person. What have been some of the unexpected discoveries or realizations from working from home? Have you discovered a talent or passion that you didn’t have before the pandemic? What are you watching during these stay-at-home measures? And what are your kids watching? What are you most looking forward to doing when the worst of the pandemic has passed? How are you communicating with your teams and allaying their concerns? What are the biggest challenges you are facing in operating your business, even in this highly digitally connected age? Send an email to [email protected] with your thoughts on any or all of the above! We hope you are safe and healthy during these challenging times. (Note: Feedback may be edited for clarity, length or style at the editor’s discretion.)

David Royle, EVP & Chief Programming Officer, Smithsonian Channel

“It’s a challenging time for all of us, but we have been fortunate at the Smithsonian Channel because of the type of programs we produce. We are relatively lucky in factual entertainment because we don’t usually work with enclosed sets and large crews. In fact, we have a natural-history cinematographer who is alone, in the middle of Britain’s New Forest, filming wildlife. Staying in the forest is the safest place he could possibly be! We’ve also able to continue production by emphasizing archive-based programs, which work really well for history and stories about aviation and space.

Of course, we all miss each other’s company but in some ways this time has brought us closer together. I can be on a Zoom meeting to Argentina or Brazil and we’re talking to each other from our homes. There’s something very personal about seeing people inside their homes and we sometimes spend as much time talking about our lives, as about work.

The production community is remarkably resourceful, and we’ve had as many pitches as ever before. The most remarkable one was from two advertising creatives who were quarantined inside a Shanghai apartment building when the pandemic broke out. They had never made a documentary before but turned their cameras on the people in the building—from a young woman doctor to a couple who manage a bridal business. The result is a fascinating portrait of their journey from isolation to the hopes and joys of the re-opening.

I thought I would have much more time to develop new skills and interests while working from home, but we seem to be busier than ever. I do watch more TV. I love the Spanish series Money Heist, Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, and our new series An American Aristocrat’s Guide to Great Estates.”

Genevieve Dexter, Founder & CEO, Serious Lunch; Founder & CEO, Eye Present

“At Serious Lunch, we all work from home so it is not a big change. However until now, not everyone was comfortable with video conferencing, and we are now screen sharing with confidence. We seem to work very well together as a team under the current circumstances and have become a more important source of support to one another than previously because our work as a distributor is a source of stability for us all in a changing world. I have also discovered a nano blur function that makes me look much younger.

Initially, it was important to be preemptive and cease contact in person prior to the lockdown and then to reassure everyone they would not be furloughed and continue on full pay and make sure they had all the software tools and training they needed to be self-sufficient.  The most important thing has been to set up regular group calls with a set agenda to help to give rhythm to our days.

The biggest challenge is getting to pitch presales on a new property, The World According to Willow Wong, and to update everyone on the Operation Ouch! coronavirus special, so we have created newsletters that link to our website where we can follow up with materials to those who have clicked through to those sites. Working with new software has been challenging but ultimately changing the way that we reach people to make sure everyone has our latest news and can respond to it. We will be setting up virtual pitches with a short deck on Willow and sending out screeners for the coronavirus special around the time we would have been going to Mifa as our virtual market.

Buyers from major channels that rely on the delivery of shows that they have commissioned, like the BBC, have been acquiring new shows from us, which we will announce shortly. Many buyers are interested in our educational or entertainment content like Art Ninja. I think everyone has been doing a bit of art these days, and it’s great to have a show for older kids in this area. Others are interested in fantasy like The New Legends of Monkey or Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter, and a real surprise has been the success of Tik Tak, which is for toddlers, who of course have no nursery to go to. We are currently recruiting a new sales executive to help us with the demand.”

Monica Levy, Head of Sales, Federation Kids & Family

“At the beginning of the quarantine, I berated myself as I felt that I did not have kids (now in their teens and early 20s) who took the initiative to help out in the face of need (this loosely translates to not helping with the housework until asking multiple times while raising my voice progressively!) and then I realized that as a result of this pandemic, I had actually been given a unique second chance to educate my loved ones. For the last couple of weeks, dinners have been made alternatively by either my son or daughter, and the clean-up (is albeit half-heartedly) done as well!

Professionally speaking, I think we can all agree our lives have changed forever. The days of having to ask permission to work from home occasionally or feel like we probably should go into the office when feeling sick (and only slightly contagious) as proof of our loyalty to our company and our work may be out of style forever.

I feel like we have gained confidence in our independence and our ability to work as a team even if we are not sharing the same physical space. Ironically, (and I suspect that I am not alone) I have always reluctantly gone to MIPCOM and MIPTV. The tiring four-day marathon of pitching, wining and dining, kissing and running from one meeting to the next on the Croisette, well it just wasn’t my thing. However absurdly, COVID-19 has also made me realize that I hate social distancing! I want to talk, pitch, hug, kiss, be late, busy and stressed. Today, I would do anything to be able to go to a market! I miss my team, the camaraderie, and my clients, oh I so miss seeing my clients face to face.”

Jonathan Abraham, VP of Sales & Business Development, Guru Studio

“Animation has been lucky in some respects as we’ve been fortunate to maintain productivity levels despite having to reorganize how we work. The challenges we face are all new, but thanks to our incredibly talented team we’ve been putting the right solutions in place. How materials are reviewed, in real-time, is one of our primary focuses. My team and I stay in constant contact using the wonderful technology we have access to. One thing I’ve noticed is that this shared experience has really strengthened our industry. We’re sharing our personal experiences, which is creating more empathy across the board, especially with our international partners.

Since being isolated at home, I’ve taken up cleaning in a much more vigorous fashion. Our director of sales, Corey Caplan, has been showing off his fiery skills in the kitchen with our team. The only problem is we can’t enjoy the fruits of his labor! Like the rest of the world, I’ve been watching Tiger King and Ozark. My daughter is almost 10 months old so she’s not watching anything. But I can’t wait to introduce her to True and the Rainbow Kingdom when she’s a little older. I want her to appreciate some of the important messages of the show like practicing mindfulness and empathy.

On a personal note, I am someone who thrives off people’s physical energy, so I look forward to being present with friends and colleagues once the pandemic has passed.”

Vivek Lath, Founder & Managing Director, GoQuest Media Ventures

“Change in productivity has been the most surprising revelation for me, I would say. The absence of travel and a reduced number of meetings is now giving me time to concentrate on the projects I had been planning to undertake. Also, I am now able to have a more engaging conversation with our partners, who are also open to exploring varied content to meet their requirements in these exceptional times. I am using this time to sample and explore tons of non-English content from different territories. I am amazed to have discovered some really interesting content that had slipped through the net earlier. The occupational hazard you know.

I miss traveling. The moment things ease-out, I would like to take a flight and visit social events and have face-to-face connections once again.

Our teams are on Zoom every day. We do weekly updates on the existing situation and we have also created an open line for all employees, where they can call me or my colleague Jimmy George anytime in case of any concerns or questions that they may have.

For us, challenges are largely [more] business than operational. Operationally we have been adept at working remotely with our sales teams operational out of offices placed across the globe. However, both the supply side and buy side have been affected due to the halt in productions and advertising spend, which is going to have a major impact on business.”

John Wagener, Chief Operating Officer & Chief Finance Officer, all3media international

“These are really tough times for colleagues and friends across the global production industry. As an international distributor with a substantial library, we are lucky to be having conversations about filling gaps in schedule whilst trying to provide financial support to productions that have been delayed. Critical to this is being able to deliver master material quickly to clients. Two years ago we started a project with a company, Knox Media Hub, to develop a cloud-based asset management system. This came online at the start of 2020 and has allowed us to fulfill our deals remotely during this extraordinary period—last week alone we delivered over 1,000 hours. It’s really come into its own, and it’s fair to say that our tech ops team—often the unsung heroes of the distribution world—have very much saved the day.”

Michelle Wasserman, Senior VP, Format Licensing & Content Development, Endemol Shine Latino

“Sadly, many industries have stopped producing, but media companies are busier than ever: informing, educating, entertaining and producing in different ways, but ultimately being productive. The way of producing has adapted to current times. The models have changed, leading to self-improvement each day, and to be more creative. When restrictions are lifted, we will have learned many valuable lessons in our new reality. We will have learned to produce in extreme conditions, in isolation, with even smaller budgets, realizing that we can do great things.

In this pandemic, I’ve discovered cooking, I’ve taken up one of my hobbies which are puzzles and I volunteered at a foundation that works with seniors.

We cannot modify or avoid the global consequences of this tremendous crisis, but we can control our outlook when it’s over. Let’s start preparing then, because all this is going to pass. It is not saying ‘getting back to normal.’ There will undoubtedly be much more collateral damage than we are experiencing right now. But it will also leave a new social order, giving us a new opportunity to do something better not for the next generation, but for the current one.

The audiovisual sector today is highly fragmented and there are different needs. Production of content has stopped, limited only to news and live shows. Development teams are dedicating their time to creativity. Broadcasters are targeting the acquisition of finished product. In this industry as in others, it is time to support us. Big business will eventually return.”

Nadav Palti, CEO & President, Dori Media Group

“The health of our team—located in Israel, Argentina, Spain, Switzerland and Singapore—is of most importance. All are currently working from home and our objective is to maintain a close working relationship within and outside the company. We hold high-frequency interactive meetings, internal with our team and external with clients in order to update and be up-to-date on what is happening in the world. Our goal is to fulfill our clients’ requests and needs and find a way to work together on any project that may arise, especially during this complex situation. Together with our clients, we find the perfect match between our content and their needs. Due to the COVID-19 world situation, viewing is rising and [we expect] that it will continue to rise. People, staying at home, are likely to view more and more. Some watch more news, others watch series that allow them to be distracted from the situation and there are those who, despite the situation, still look for series regarding epidemics.

Viewing on Dori Media’s channels has risen tremendously since the beginning of the situation and [on April 12] we launched an additional channel in Israel (on HOT and YES).”

Barbora Suster, Head of Latin America & Iberia, Eccho Rights

“As a global company, Eccho Rights has an advantage with offices around the world. All of its employees are very used to working virtually and the team works very well. But we’ve made an unexpected discovery: the fact that virtual meetings are more effective than we expected. As we work from home, people are more open to coordinating calls to catch up, talk about our needs, and to present new content or follow up on previously presented titles. For us, it is a valid replacement for the canceled markets, although we will always prefer to see our clients in person. We’ve been using this time to focus on acquisitions, revising and looking into many projects in development.

I have a very close relationship with my team, and beyond the constant chat conversations, we have several calls a day and many projects that must go forward. It also helps that we’re such an international team. We’re able to share the experiences from different perspectives and we encourage each other.

A talent that I have definitely discovered, or have had to discover, is creativity when it comes to entertaining my daughter and coming up with new things to do with her since we have been in quarantine for almost a month with no end in sight. We’ve been watching lots of Disney+! My daughter is very young so we’re pretty much covered with animated content on different platforms but we constantly look for entertainment beyond the screen. [I’m looking forward to] getting out again, taking strolls and going to the park with my daughter.

[A big challenge for us] is to be able to project the remainder of the year. We know that our industry is one of the most dynamic ones and that in normal times, it is already difficult to estimate sales, but right now it is basically impossible because no one, customers or producers, knows what’s coming or when they’ll be able to resume activities. With this uncertainty, it is difficult to plan and manage. We are striving to maintain a constant dialogue with our clients and helping each other to get out of this situation with the best possible result.”

Robert Franke, VP, ZDFE.drama, ZDF Enterprises

“Digital meetings won’t substitute face-to-face meetings in some cases, but a lot of the actual sales business is handled via email and by telephone after one had the initial meetings. It is an inconvenience and we are trying to make the best out of it. Everybody is in the same boat at present!

What we see is that despite all the uncertainty in the market, one thing is for sure: in these times, people really want to see content. Everybody is confined at home and looking for entertainment. At the same time, you see that the whole production business has come to a grinding stop because everyone has had to postpone and cancel ongoing shoots. That means there will be a lot of demand for content once we all have overcome this situation. We need to ramp up productions once this is over.

Also, all the channels that rely on sports programming and show formats are now in need of other programming to fill the gaps. Think of a platform like Sky. They rely on sports and football. The Olympic Games have been canceled. So there is a lot of room this year for ready-made catalog content. We are quite confident that we will be able to overcome this and will be able to help our partners on the channel side and fulfill their needs. We get good feedback from them. It’s a challenge, but we are pretty far advanced in our digitalization. We have a fully digital workspace and we are able to work from home without any disruption.”

Deirdre Brennan, Executive VP, Content Partnerships, WildBrain

“We are all working from home and it’s surprisingly productive. What keeps me optimistic is the industry response we’ve seen to the crisis—funding bodies, producers, broadcasters and platforms are all working to help families manage social isolation in any way they can.

Within WildBrain, I’m really impressed by how well everyone is adapting to working together, apart. Communication technology has really proven its value, hasn’t it? We just need to develop some new techniques and etiquette around being at work and at home simultaneously. The long-term social and economic impact of COVID-19 will unfold in coming months, but it’s been a grounding, human experience so far.”

Fernando Muñiz, General Director, Televisa Internacional & General Director, Sales, Televisa Networks

“I’ve discovered that having a home office is productive when you comply with basic requirements: Establishing a routine that allows you to organize a start and end to the workday, having a dedicated workspace, waking up, showering and getting ready, having a designated time for meals and having fluid communication with my team via chats, calls, email and video calls. I’ve also discovered a new talent: Patience! I watch the news and some series like Hunters, ZeroZeroZero and El Dragón, [while] my kids tune in to series like Elite and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The greatest challenge is not being able to meet clients personally since relationships are a fundamental part of my daily work. Clients are worried about the economy in their countries and the impact it might have on each of their businesses.”

Can Okan, Founder & CEO, Inter Medya

“We have made the difficult decision to shut down our Istanbul [office] and immediately changed our working system. At the moment, we continue to work from the safety of our homes and do our job in the most efficient way. We have also decided to postpone the start date for our [new series Saygi (Respect)] until further notice and we will reschedule everything for a more appropriate time. We care about everyone’s safety and will take whatever action is necessary to protect the health of our team members and our customers. We fully believe that we will overcome this disease together and leave these difficult times behind us. We hope to work together again in healthier days.”

Sheila Morris, CEO & Founder, Morris Marketing

“While this is definitely a time of uncertainty, I’m grateful to be a part of such a dedicated, innovative and resilient industry. I believe we have all had to make many business adjustments due to the current situation; however, I’m amazed at how quickly everyone has adapted to the changing climate. I’m already looking forward to MIPCOM in October and the next 30 years of Morris Marketing. Wishing everyone continued safety and good health.”

The following messages came in response to a note from Ricardo Guise, our president and publisher.

Jo Kavanagh-Payne, President, Foothill Entertainment
“I so enjoyed reading what you had written and good to hear how you are coping with the new reality. Greg [Payne] recently started working for Disney TV Animation and tomorrow we are moving back to Santa Barbara. We are learning to live in a new reality and so excited to be still working in this new world—and in this super exciting business that we all love and cherish! As someone said to me two MIPCOMs ago, ‘this business is like a virus that you just cannot shake!’ What a poignant expression, especially right now.”

Tom van Waveren, CEO & Creative Director, CAKE Entertainment

“It is indeed strange to be making sandwiches in my kitchen today instead of having lunch at L’Ondine, my favorite beach restaurant in Cannes, but I am in awe of what people will step up and do for each other, it’s truly inspiring.

We sent the CAKE team to set up office at home two weeks ago and I am happy to know that our employees are as safe as they could be.

We are also very lucky to be in animation, as we have been able to work with our partners to set up everyone for working from home on our productions. We realize many of our colleagues, particularly in all live-action genres, are not as lucky.

Like all nightmares, COVID-19 will also pass, and it will hopefully have taught us not to take all these people for granted that are now stepping in to nurture, care and save without complaining.”

Sebastian Debertin, Head of Fiction, Acquisitions & Co-Productions, KiKA

“Thank you for your publisher’s note. We definitely should not forget the heroes of these months and honor and repay them for their fantastic service for our community.

While we all try to pretend it is business as usual, just done from a home office we are working from or at least in a distance, remote from each other in our offices, we need to strengthen and support each other more than ever. We should turn this terrible experience into a better life for all and not forget those who need our help most.

It is midday and while I am cooking for my kids, I am reading the World Screen newsletter in my home office—lunch break. Thank you and your team for providing me with the latest news from our industry also in these unsettling times.”

Bill Schultz, CEO, Founder & Executive Producer, Home Plate Entertainment

“Ricardo, thank you very much for your heartfelt moving note. Having been in this business for over 30 years, the word ‘unprecedented’ carries significant weight. As hard as it is to lose the comfort of a tradition or routine—hopefully, there’s a silver lining to that as well. I’ll bet your photography is going to be better than it’s ever been.

Hearing your honest heartfelt testimonial makes the beginning of another week of lockdown that much more tolerable. I appreciate what you and your team have done for so many years, covering the kids’ business, but I also appreciate now your willingness to reveal and share your personal humanity with the rest of us.”

Claudia Balzer Scott-Hansen, The Jim Henson Company

“I look forward to a time when we will be able to return to some semblance of routine—I hesitate to call it ‘normalcy,’ as what normal will mean has yet to be defined.

Take care of yourself, enjoy the photographs and the cooking with your family.  I hope to see you at the next conference when we will appreciate that rosé so much more than usual.”

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