Why I’m Not Freaking Out About the Covid-19 Shutdown

Thoughts on the Economics and Evolution of Production after the Pandemic

Published on in Miscellaneous

The Coronavirus really snuck up on me, as it did for everyone. I was off to a busy start this year, running up and down California, shooting content for several different projects, when I began to hear murmurs of this looming threat. One day, my barber was showing me an N95 mask that he had stood in line to purchase that morning. But…this was coming from a guy who has told me at length his theories on Big-Foot, and UFOs. So the truth was, like many people, I didn’t know how seriously to take all of this in the beginning.

The conversation continued and the news stories began to build, but we had a full schedule of shoots to get through. Then a few clients started getting a little nervous about traveling to San Francisco because of a few known outbreaks. Then a couple more shoots started canceling and postponing. There were talks about people working from home. Other countries were on lockdown. I was out on shoots right up until the day of shelter-in-place. But when it hit, I, like many, couldn’t quite wrap my head around what this all meant. What does this mean for productions? I have a couple of weeks worth of stuff to do at my desk, and then what?

This thing has to come to an end. But when it does, what will that look like for our industry?  There have been a ton of public discussions, webinars, and blog posts circling, but they are all mainly concerned with economic stimulus. Personally, I’m trying to think more about creative concepts and long-term strategy as I feel that video is only deepening its roots in how we function as a society. 

It seems that the sooner this shelter-in-place slows down we will be exercising social distancing for the unforeseeable future. This is going to change the scope of a lot of productions for better and worse. There are segments of the economy that are affected in very different ways by this economic shutdown. It seems to me that across the board there is going to be some pent up demand for advertising shoots as soon as we can get back to work. Life goes on and our clients will be eager to get the word out that they are once again open for business. Things will likely be similar to the 2008 recession where brands were looking for value and watchful of budgets.

I realize that for the vast majority of people in production, the year 2020 is going to be a tough year in business. But long-term there might be some benefit to this strange economic shutdown. The entire working world has continued to prove the importance of video consumption from social media to conferencing and streaming. It seems that video is only growing deeper roots with how we share and communicate across the globe. As companies are learning the power of video in new adapted workflows, they are likely to continue implementing video into their workflow when things go “back to normal.” A Zoom conference can handle a general meeting for many, but anyone who has ever produced corporate videos will tell you, there will be times when a large company needs to get a message out that is more polished. To stay up on trends, we have made some recent investments into Blackmagic Design’s ATEM streaming equipment, as we can see the broader need for our clients to connect through video messaging both internally (to their remote workforce) and externally (advertising). While we are no strangers to streaming content, we see it becoming a regular demand in the near future.

When economists talk about recovery, one of the things that they discuss is called green shoots areas within the economy that show signs of growth. Nowhere can you see more signs of “green shoots” than with what video is doing to keep people connected, entertained, and informed. Some segments of the economy that are seeing the potential of video are places like churches, where a streaming video could grow their remote congregation long after the doors of a church are reopened. Looking at all of the musicians who are following in similar suit, reaching out to their fans, we will likely see more streaming engagement as many festivals are canceled this year…this is going to demand video teams all over the place. Streaming content is at an all-time high. With parks closed and large productions at a standstill, media giant Disney is seeing their streaming platform of Disney + as their shining star in their media empire. How might companies like Disney create new contingencies about how much content they create and release to stay competitive in times of production standstills?  Much of this viewership is blotted by people being stuck at home, nevertheless, they might be tempted to sandbag content and overproduce down the road. 

I’m hearing a lot of talk from talent agents I know saying that the proven influencer business model of being able to be talent as well as a photographer is in high demand as many consumer goods are still being purchased. Many of us are being contacted by creative agencies to see how much we can produce from a shutdown. We’ve even teamed up with a group of content creators called Create-In-Place to demonstrate how much capabilities we have during this social distancing. With the consumption of content being bigger than ever right now it seems that the demand will follow. The real wave that is coming for media companies has to do with the return to normal.  Down the road, there is going to be a large push coming from all brands that things are back to normal and everything is “fine.” The pent up demand will be building for the need for content to get consumers shopping again. And the way that video is only widening its stance in our day-to-day activities that our rebound is going to come a lot quicker than other segments of the economy.

I would love to hear what other people’s thoughts and opinions are, please comment below. 

Doug Birnbaum is an accomplished Photographer and Filmmaker. He runs Branded Content Media a production company based in San Francisco, CA.

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About the Author

Doug Birnbaum
Doug Birnbaum
Doug Birnbaum is a San Francisco based Photographer and Cinematographer. He has had the opportunity to work with leading brands such as American Express, H&M, Levi’s, Rolex, Anthropology, ESPN, NBC, Lifetime and Warner Brothers.

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