At the risk of sounding almost trivial given the sheer magnitude of the current global pandemic, these are challenging times for all in the media and entertainment industry. The out-of-home entertainment market is one segment of the media business that has been particularly devastated. So have the livelihoods of content-developing creatives (producers, talent) and content-enabling entrepreneurs (media-tech startups).
Both groups of creative desperately search for some sense of what the pandemic means to them, their businesses, and their careers — what they can do to mitigate the harm and expand opportunities — and frequently what they can do to simply keep productive and working. Whether you are a motion picture or television producer, creative talent of any kind (actor, director), or media-tech entrepreneur, I don’t need to tell you that the funds that fuel your creativity have dried up. Seemingly overnight. For creatives, virtually all production has stopped.
And for entrepreneurs, virtually all money to fuel innovation from angel investors and venture capitalists has similarly evaporated. Those VCs now preserve their cash for their best-performing existing portfolio companies. In those few new investments that are made, valuations will be depressed. Many others will not be so lucky and current dreams will be dashed — not because they weren’t deserving, but rather simply due to timing and cruel fate. The same can be said for media-related business deals right now. Those few that close likely will be at a price that is a fraction of their former value. Others simply won’t cross the finish line.
That’s the ugly truth.
But there is hope. First, for the creative community, massive amounts of money are still being made by vast sectors in the media and entertainment economy. As strange as it sounds, in-home entertainment choices like Netflix are experiencing a pandemic-driven homebound boom. Netflix had planned to spend over $17 billion this year alone on content. That massive pile of money may be sidelined for now, but it certainly isn’t going away. Netflix must keep its content fresh to compete in a growing world of streaming behemoths out to get it. So once we are free to leave our homes and work together in the physical world, that money will be unleashed to fuel a massive torrent of creativity.
And for you entrepreneurs out there, know this. VCs and other sources of capital aren’t “in the game” to hold onto their cash. Investing it is their raison d’être. And invest they will. Nothing, not even global pandemics, can pull the plug on innovation and the accelerating pace of technology. Once VCs have ensured that their best performers will survive to fight another day — and once the worst is gone — expect a wave of already-raised cash to flow.
Finally, our collective lockdown gives us all a chance to reflect, prioritize, study, explore, experiment, innovate, communicate and still collaborate via new technology and platforms. We now have a chance — born of necessity — to open our minds to new possibilities. And to actively explore them. Boldly. Fearlessly.
In the world of film and television, the Duplass Brothers find new time to write projects that previously were on the back burner. They also just announced a new commitment to actively help indie filmmakers break through during these challenging times. And on the music side, iconoclastic innovator Grimes’s new music video and “Quarantine Art Kit” for fans — which lets them create their own videos on her video green screen’s backdrop (and then share those videos) — point the way.
In other words, now is a time for all of us — in whatever creative field that we pursue — to be scrappy, tenacious, creative “entrepreneurs” in every sense of the word.
So bravo to those of you have buckled down, conserved your cash, and made the most of what you have right now (in terms of your creative projects and companies). Applause to those of you who actively reach out to those — perhaps out of your comfort zone — in the spirit of collaboration and idea sharing. In the spirit of giving opportunities and connections, and not just taking. The more you put yourselves out there — and the more you are open to new possibilities — the more likely it is that exciting new possibilities materialize.
And kudos to those of you who now experiment with new technologies like live remote streaming to reach your audience, or with new social platforms like TikTok to showcase your creative work. Even if you’re a producer or talent usually involved in high-budget production, what’s the downside of creating something less “grand” from your home — like a small video “feature” to test the waters or simply keep your creative juices flowing?
None. No downside. Your seemingly insignificant little production may gain some traction that catches the attention of benefactors on down the line once financing opens up again, which it inevitably will. And that money may grow your little idea into something that eventually becomes much bigger on a much larger screen. Positivity, tenacity and openness to listening to new ideas from others who share similar passion and constructive energy will get you through this Black Swan event.
Entrepreneurial spirit — in every sense of those words (meaning both “entrepreneurial” and “spiritual”) — will get us through these unprecedented times when the world has largely stopped and seemingly turned its back against us with so much human suffering. We will get back to the pre-pandemic path we were on before all the madness revealed itself and spread to all corners of the globe.
Forever changed, yes. But ultimately better because of it.
Peter Csathy is founder and chairman of Creatv Media, a media, entertainment and technology business development, M&A, advisory and creative services firm. He recently published a new book, “Viral Media: Entertainment in the Age of the Great Pandemic.”