TBI Weekly: Unpacking the future of global distribution

As The London Screenings come to a close after two weeks of virtual sales events, TBI explores how the industry might react when physical markets and events return as we pick out highlights from our exclusive recent report, The Future Of Global Distribution Survey.

The traditional events cycle has been upended by the pandemic and, increasingly, business is being done within a virtual environment. Years gone by, streamer and broadcast executives would travel globally from market to market to find their latest acquisitions, but almost all are now doing deals from home.

This transformation in behaviour is not purely down to COVID – deals were being struck via online distribution platforms well before the pandemic – but as with so many things, it has accelerated an existing trend.

To explore this fundamental shift in the way the content business operates, TBI recently partnered with Imagen to survey more than 150 executives from over 50 countries to gauge how their habits have changed and to explore what might happen next. Here, we pick out five key findings – to download and explore the survey in full, click here.

Embracing change

Back in late 2019 and even early 2020, few saw the turmoil to come and the events calendar was as packed as it had ever been. Markets, conferences and networking events were almost weekly – so it isn’t surprising that our survey found that 63% of respondents had not used online distribution platforms frequently prior to the pandemic.

Fast-forward to 2021, things are rather different with 61% of respondents using online distribution services either frequently or almost exclusively. It reflects a marked change in habits, but perhaps the real takeaway here comes when we look ahead: the overwhelming belief from those same respondents is that they will be using online distribution services more in future.

Practical vs personal

Whether or not you would rather be meeting your business contacts and friends in person, the reality is that digital platforms have been a lifeline for distributors over the past year and enabled the industry to continue moving when much of the world stood still.

The question of what people have made of these services varies, with opinions divided on how much of a practical effect they have had on the acquisition process. A slim majority of execs – 54% of those surveyed – said that they believed online distribution had helped to speed up deal-making, with only 6% believing these services were slowing things down.

Speed wasn’t the only factor on execs minds, however. Many noted the cost benefits of screening their content online and the ability to reach a broader range of buyers than they otherwise might have – even if it meant losing the personal touch.

Screening ahead

Head to MIPCOM and the longest lines around the Palais tend to be for premieres of new shows. Yet respondents to our survey suggest this status quo could be on the wane, with almost 60% believing that digital distribution services can deliver a screening as well as, or better than, premieres at a physical event.

Yet there are clear drawbacks, with the buzz often created at a physical event instead dissipating into the online ether. And respondents were also clear that physical markets are far more effective for establishing relationships – and maintaining them. There is simply no digital replacement for a physical meeting.

Market movers

Until recently, you might have thought that the industry is, in the main, looking forward to the day when we can go back to filling up our diaries with a bustling calendar of physical events – but popular opinion might be starting to swing the other way.

The trend towards cutting back expensive and time-consuming travel was already occurring before the pandemic, but this past year may have solidified the idea that staying home more and increasing the amount of time spent looking at content online is more efficient than jetting around the globe.

Following 12 months of suspended physical events, only 15% of respondents believed that markets are more important than ever – and 25% went so far as to say they have declined in importance. While many are clearly still missing the chance to meet face to face, there seems to be an acceptance that the congested events calendar of recent years is unlikely to return in the future as execs, emboldened by a new way of doing things, cut down on their attendance. Picking and choosing seems the likely result.

Future planning

Perhaps the most-telling result from our survey is that following a year of lockdown, more than 90% of respondents believe they will spend the same or more on digital distribution in 2021.

Some global distributors have already spent heavily on bespoke platforms, while smaller operators have also adapted quickly to make sure their content is easily accessible online. This trend does not appear to be a pandemic anomaly, either: almost a quarter of respondents said their spending on digital distribution would soar by more than 50% in 2021, underlining that this shift in activity is likely here to stay.

To download your copy of The Future Of Global Distribution Survey in full, click here.

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