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Understanding the Pandemic’s Impact on the Production Industry

by Heather Salkin, SVP, Executive Producer

The continuous and lasting effects of COVID-19 have impacted every industry imaginable. Within advertising in particular, live event and live-action content production have likely taken the biggest hits. The obvious fact that venues have been shuttered for a year now — preventing live, in-person branded experiences — only scratches the surface of how far this impact reaches.

Specifically when we look at the impact on the live events industry, countless supporting businesses, professionals, services, and goods have suffered from the trickle-down effect of the COVID-19 production shutdown. The truth is that no one has been spared. A peek behind the curtain shows a few of these examples:

  • A pause in live events also means a pause in live event technology innovations.
  • Locations and services that aid in producing live events have closed due to canceled — and then a lack of need for — bookings.
  • A travel reduction for live events means a reduced need for transfer services, car rentals, travel agencies, etc.
  • The food and beverage industry elements of live events froze with the arrival of COVID-19. It continues to impact distributors, caterers, food prep, bartenders, and servers.

Looking forward, when we think about how people would historically interact with a brand’s experience at a live event, many opportunities of the past might no longer exist in the future. In-person celebrity meet-and-greets, multiplayer experiences, crowded spaces, and even product sampling may be a thing of the past.

What we have learned as an industry is that we need to be even more intentional when we deal with virtual events to create ultra-engaging experiences. The bar has been raised with the innovations on these platforms over the past year, but there is so much room to grow. It’s our job to ensure that we never lose a brand’s connection to the customer’s experience, whether live or virtual.

 

A Look at Live Branded Experiences During the Pandemic

While producers are the world’s greatest problem solvers, the pandemic requires a new level of agility and planning skills to achieve success in the evolving market. In the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, many conversations in the industry were around the ability to do whatever we could, given the restrictions. Now, we have a greater understanding of how to consider and address our clients’ business needs along with our audiences’ physical, physiological, emotional, and intellectual needs.

In response to this challenge, many brands (depending upon their goals) are shifting to virtual events. In these cases, production money is simply being shifted to a different set of strategic partners while agencies maintain billable staffing plans. Where a brand used to activate at a physical venue and hire a caterer, they now produce and promote the event on a virtual event platform and may send food and alcohol to guests at home using Grubhub or Drizly.

 

Shooting Live Action Safely

Switching gears to live-action content production (shooting live for commercial purposes, in this case), entertainment unions and major studios came to a consensus on new safety protocols and compensation rules for filming during the pandemic back in September 2020. This meant that many components of the production process moved to dynamic virtual platforms, many of which we have been utilizing with our clients over the past year at RAPP. What was once done with a full team in-studio or on a live set is now being done with most or all of the agency and client team remotely.

What we’ve learned along the way is a virtual production environment yields some major benefits — benefits that ensure remote production capabilities will continue well beyond the pandemic.

For one, remote productions can be more inclusive. Team members who weren’t able to be on location previously are now involved in the process, adding value and increasing exposure. Additionally, there has naturally been a shift from shooting live footage to more post-production, including a high percentage of animation, CGI work, and hybrid composite work. Virtually all COVID-19 risks are mitigated by taking that route. Finally, producers using remote production platforms reduce travel expenses for clients and agency staff.

 

Future Production Predictions

Post-pandemic, the consensus is that most of the newer workflows, technologies, and platforms developed to adapt to COVID-19 protocols will remain in place and continue evolving. This goes beyond the current state of on-set virus testing, sanitation, social distancing, PPE, and disinfecting. Smaller crew sizes, in-depth recording of personnel, health test mandates or proof of vaccination, casting-in-cohorts, libraries of photographic evidence of safety measures, and even addendums to typical production insurance will continue for the foreseeable future.

Agile adaption to today’s challenges will encourage more locally based productions and relationships, spur production crews to utilize their own equipment, and require post-production to be completed via remote collaboration to avoid unnecessary exposure. With virtual events booming, other parts of the industry are seeing opportunities open up for new talent to thrive — and for more seasoned talent and businesses to reinvent themselves and adapt.

We also have a keen eye on the potential of XR as we look into the future. Consider “The Mandalorian,” which is not produced using a traditional film workflow. Instead, the entire production occurs in a highly controlled studio environment, where the physical sets are blended with backdrop scenery in real time, projected onto massive LED display units, and use gaming engines on the backend. These XR productions are innovative and fascinating. Video production and virtual events are already taking this path and will be next in line to take advantage of these approaches at scale.

In the end, when it comes to live experiences, we have to think about the reality of the public’s appetite. Most people will surely be slow to return to large events, continuing to delay the need for standard production services for the next year or more. As more content streams go virtual, the live event industry will adapt and explore new ways to connect brands with their audience.

The show, after all, must go on.