Dealing with Covid-19: Five lessons from a virtual market

TBI Vision, Bethan Corney 19th March 2020

TBI Vision, Bethan Corney

19 March 2020

Over the coming months, TBI will be running a series of articles exploring how the international content industry is dealing with the challenges of Covid-19. We will explore how businesses are adapting and overcoming the problems posed, with timely and useful insights from producers, distributors, streamers and broadcasters.

We kick off with Bethan Corney, MD, co-production broker and head of originals at UK-based distributor and financier Silverlining, who discusses the lessons learned from being an early adopter of online meetings

A few weeks before MIPTV 2020 was officially cancelled, Silverlining decided to line up video meetings as an alternative to the market.

In balance against our carbon footprint, travel costs and the potential for Coronavirus to become the problem it now has, we took our Spring catalogue digital and created our own virtual marketplace. Thankfully, we’re ahead of the curve and, over the past two weeks, our e-meetings have taught us a thing or two about the challenges and advantages of this new way of working in the distribution business. Here are a few of our learnings:

Find your platform and get your buyers at ease

Whilst the go-to might be Skype, and there are a multitude of video conferencing services offering very professional options, you need to find the right one for you and your business. Silverlining is utilising a platform that allows us to share our digital catalogue with channels in real time as we flip through it, just as we would at a market, with our buyers displayed in webcams alongside. It would be useful to be able to show video clips within the platform as a next step but this works for now and buyers have loved it. We’ve made sure to hold their hands through the very simple mechanics of the platform, which requires no sign ups or downloads – just a web browser, a web cam and a microphone – one click of a video link and we are all connected. Our platform also has a recording feature, which we have elected not to use at this time, but this could be useful for sales colleagues to catch up on at a later date, with the client’s permission.

Bethan Corney

Provide (even more) exceptional client service

The digital interface means you can do live note-taking and immediate follow-up that a market simply doesn’t allow. All clients have received an email within an hour of the call with any documents or video material they may have requested in order to help their acquisition decisions along. Due to the fact that Silverlining began these video meetings well before market time, we are ahead of the game in sending pitch materials well in advance of other distributors and also whilst the titles are fresh in clients’ minds. You literally have all your resources at your fingertips, from screeners and treatments to contracts and agreements, so there is no need for a lag in helping a decision along.

Be flexible where you can

Being prepared is everything, but embrace the ability to tailor on the hop. Having a digital catalogue, which we emailed to buyers beforehand to preview, means they were already well prepared for our pitch. It was, however, great to be able to surprise them with a new idea for a documentary special on the Coronavirus and test out whether it would be of interest.


Video meetings are more relaxed and frequently more rewarding. In the middle of chatting about Surrogate Diaries, a refreshing and contemporary look at the fascinating world of surrogacy (3 x 60’ from Sundog Pictures), our buyer’s son walked in with a cup of coffee for her while they self-isolate at home. It’s a far cry from 15-20 half-hour meetings in a day at the market, where one catalogue may blur into another for buyers. Here, there is less fatigue. The sales team are less pressured to cram a snapshot of the new slate into a rushed catch-up – instead, you have time to take in buyer feedback, which has, by and large, been clearer and more frank amidst less distraction and pressure. We’ve been able to revisit titles in the back catalogue which are newly available again, like Operation Whale, a natural history doc with a difference (2 x 60’ from Big Wave Productions), which has seen renewed interest during this e-market.

Time saved is invaluable

Whilst discussions are more relaxed, the ability to tailor your pitch on the spot means you are actually able to have a more concise and efficient meeting, leaving time in between calls to input all feedback into our internal databases and complete all necessary feedback before the next meeting begins. In fact, because our platform has no limit to the number of people who can join the meeting, we were able to do these inputs during the meeting itself, saving further time. This is in sharp contrast to the hectic period after a market processing and actioning meeting notes.

Whilst feedback from our buyers has been excellent, our video meetings have not been without their challenges. As more people are urged to work from home, the strain on the technology may start to show, as it did with us just this morning when our platform suffered a crash. We imagine there will be new offerings in the wake of this crisis that will take video conferencing to the next level and we’re looking forward to being on the sharp edge of that when it’s available.

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