Last year at this time, Adweek asked several of the most prominent TV executives to talk about the industry’s biggest challenges as they looked ahead to 2020. While their responses were insightful, of course none of them anticipated the thing that actually upended the industry—and the rest of the world—this year: Covid-19.
So as part of our Year in Review coverage, we asked many of the industry’s key players to reflect on the biggest things they’ve learned since the pandemic began, what about the business has changed permanently because of Covid-19 and how their approach to their job has been altered as a result.
Here’s how 11 top TV execs—who oversee broadcast, cable and streaming outlets—answered those questions. In the coming days, we’ll also hear from TV ad sales chiefs, buyers and analysts about how the pandemic has changed the business and what’s ahead for 2021.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned since the pandemic began?
Frances Berwick, chairman of entertainment networks, NBCUniversal Television and Streaming: My most profound learnings over these past nine months have all been centered around how innovative and creative we got as an industry when faced with seemingly impossible obstacles. It has been genuinely inspiring to see how quickly our internal studios and third-party production partners were able to adjust to remote editing and restart production with full Covid-19 safety protocols, and how our talent put their trust in us throughout these challenging times.
And I learned that if we rise to the occasion, our audience will follow us. From the 22 million Americans who watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC to the launch of Bravo’s biggest series premiere in nearly five years with The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, we’ve rolled out close to 2,000 hours of original content across NBC, our station partners, our syndication studio and our six cable entertainment networks since the start of quarantine. We’ve delivered immersive storytelling and heartwarming spectacle—and we have been rewarded with deeper engagement and scale.
Rick Cordella, evp and chief revenue officer, Peacock: As individuals and an organization, it is amazing what we can accomplish working remotely. At Peacock, we were able to quickly make necessary pivots and hit the deadlines we set for ourselves prior to the pandemic, including a soft launch on April 15 and national launch on July 15. Our people are spread across different states and continents, but we are operating as effectively and efficiently as ever.
Kathleen Finch, chief lifestyle brands officer, Discovery Inc.: The power that solving huge problems can unleash in smart, motivated and collaborative teams. In the face of all the terrible events this year, it was incredibly exciting to design new ways to make sure our viewers had fresh episodes of the programming they love—and needed more than ever while stuck at home. We invented new methods for shooting and editing our shows, we turned episodes around in a matter of days, and did everything possible to make sure our networks provided a comforting respite for a stressed out nation. It was a daunting challenge, but we produced 500 episodes during shutdown and it’s been the most gratifying experience I’ve ever had in my career.
Andy Forssell, head of HBO Max Global: The rapid growth in audiences and hours viewed we’ve experienced on HBO Max makes very clear that great storytelling is more important than ever—that in times of stress, whether it be dramatic or escapist, entertainment plays an incredibly important role in people’s lives.