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Entertainment Executives Discuss the Post-Pandemic Future of the Industry

As the number of vaccinations increase and people begin returning to the office, entertainment business executives are preparing for a post-pandemic industry.

In the Variety Streaming Room, hosted by senior TV business writer Elaine Low, business leaders from across the entertainment industry weighed in on innovation, resiliency and what they’re most excited about when society fully reopens.

Katrina Cukaj, lead for marketing creative and network partnerships at WarnerMedia Ad Sales, and Vikki Neil, executive VP and general manager at Discovery Digital Studios, discussed how the pandemic enabled networks to listen more closely and cater to their audiences.

“We were scrambling to make sure we could get unique ways to gather content for people that shared how they can make a meal that was more helpful and less entertaining,” Neil said, discussing how Discovery’s Food Network and HGTV adapted to meet the needs of viewers during the pandemic.

Neil said that an initial dip in production value due to shooting from home on iPhones and GoPros gave way to more authentic content and spiked ratings.

The panelists also talked about industry changes made during the pandemic that will likely remain in place. Mark Gathen, VP of content acquisition at Cox Communications, mentioned that under lockdown, Cox converted call centers into the virtual space and halted field installations in exchange for self-installations, a practice that will likely continue on after the pandemic. John Harrison, U.S. media and entertainment sector leader at EY, talked about how the pandemic has permanently changed how the TV industry approaches content development and how films are distributed through video on demand.

“The last year has created a huge amount of innovation by necessity,” Harrison said.

Devin Griffin, executive VP and general manager at BET Plus, stressed the importance of giving subscribers the option to see films in theaters or on demand at home. Neil and Harrison echoed the need for content providers to be flexible and innovate quicker than before.

The panel discussed how the uptick in quantity of streaming services will eventually cause consumers to reconsider what they actually watch. Providers must develop strategies to retain customers and focus on the features they value, like genre diversification and extensive content libraries.

“As we reopen and as our entertainment options expand back into a more normalized environment, there’s going to be a sharper focus on the value we’re all getting from those subscriptions,” Harrison said.

In terms of returning to the office, the executives agreed that safety is paramount. Neil said Discovery intends to remain remote through September, while Griffin voiced BET Plus’ desire to promote safety measures both within the company and externally (evident in the recent BET program, “COVID-19 Vaccine and the Black Community: A Tyler Perry Special”).

Ending on a positive note, the panelists looked ahead to a bright future and booming entertainment business, with Cukaj expressing excitement about the return to movie theaters and Harrison mentioning industry growth from pent up demand.

Watch the full conversation above.