BY TYLER CROWE

Despite the near-total shutdown of movie theaters brought upon by COVID-19, innovation in the audiovisual sector has continued at a brisk pace. Consumers are more primed than ever to view films and series through apps on their televisions and smartphones. And where the eyeballs have gone, business has followed.  

Last week, the venerable American Film Market—one of the most important events in the audiovisual industry’s calendar—wrapped up a full week of pitches, screenings, and seminars. But the AFM is not just about the estimated $1 billion-worth of deals that take place every year—it’s as much about the 400+ small and medium-sized businesses and 7,000 industry professionals from more than 70 countries that make the place buzz. This year, in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, the AFM charged ahead like the industry it serves: digitally.  

The audiovisual industry has always been at the cutting edge of using technology to tell stories—from the first animated cartoons to today’s sophisticated pictures created with CGI and 3D animation. And as producers and distributions have leveraged digital innovations to inform distribution strategies, both consumers and creators have benefited.  

Sales of $2-$5 million independent films at this year’s AFM, for instance, were up considerably from last year—no doubt fueled by our new, home-bound normal. The Hollywood Reporter found that this development has not only lifted niche demographic and genre platforms but encouraged global players to diversify their content catalogs even more. This followed on a strong showing at Cannes completely digital Marché du Film, which according to Variety, reported that “..as many as 3,500 films and projects were presented or pitched at the market, where 1,235 screenings were held, garnering a total of 42,000 admissions across 59 virtual cinemas.” In the words of one industry executive, “during lockdown, people as captive audiences binge-watched more.”  

Pandemic or no, it’s likely that this new normal is here to stay. In the past two decades, the industry’s ability to harness digital technology—supported by strong legal norms and changing consumer behavior—has fueled an ever-greater diversity in and access to audiovisual content worldwide. And with such fierce competition, high-quality digital content–delivered just how and when consumers want it–truly, is king.