Can virtual markets also be virtuous? With so many new virtual markets coming out of the woodwork these days, “virtual” might as well be a synonym for “banal.” However, what saves the virtual editions of both DISCOP and NATPE Budapest is that both have their core business in brick-and-mortar branded events, which give them virtuosity status.

Nonetheless, moving an event from face-to-face to face-to-computer screen brings its own challenges, pitfalls, and uncertainties.

To figure out how market organizers are dealing with these new issues, VideoAge spoke with DISCOP general manager Patrick Zuchowicki (pictured above, on the right), but at the last minute was not able to directly reach NATPE president, JP Bommel (pictured above, at left), to ask some pointed questions about their individual virtual markets.

VideoAge: After so many different virtual markets, might buyers and sellers be experiencing virtual fatigue?

Patrick Zuchowicki: This is our number one problem. There is a huge level of Zoom fatigue, especially now that you see plenty of new virtual entrants launching events left and right. You also find a growing number of companies using Minecraft or Second Life to stage their virtual meetings in existing and popular environments. So you need to be very respectful of the time that is being allocated to you by vendors, buyers, and co-producers, and remove the element of pressure out of the equation. This is why we have opted for the long-form market format as opposed to a model where you expect participants to wake up at 2 a.m. and stay in front of their computers for five hours in a row.

VA: What were the biggest challenges you faced in setting up a virtual market?

PZ: First, coming to the realization that trade shows, as we knew them, are things of the past. Two, keeping up with our vendors’ powers of adaptation in a digital world. And three, understanding the kind of added value an organization like DISCOP can bring to the table. Face-to-face meetings will always be important, but the concept of physical gatherings must be taken to a whole new level — one that is distinct and separate from the virtual world we are entering. But it is too early to come up with the right formula. We need another couple of years to settle down and figure out if the worlds of virtual and physical events will collide or complement each other.

VA: Is this DISCOP Africa your first virtual market?

PZ: Yes. However, this is not our first foray into the digital world. We first launched a digital market at DISCOP Abidjan in 2018.

VA: The event runs from August 3 to October 23. How do you expect to keep the interest from buyers going?

PZ: First, thanks to the quality and diversity of our vendors’ offerings. Even though buyers in Africa have known DISCOP for over 15 years, we have built a whole new relationship with them. Our team of “personal shoppers” (i.e., well-informed acquisition assistants) puts our vendors’ offerings at the center of all conversations. We provide buyers with live concierge services to help them navigate these offerings, access information, and request additional screening privileges. We are keeping connections easy and simple, on a personal level.

VA: The DISCOP virtual market is divided into two segments. The first takes place August 3 to September 27, the second from September 28 to October 23. What are the segments for?

PZ: The first eight weeks are dedicated to the promotion of our vendors’ offerings, easily categorized as finished content, adaptations for scripted and unscripted shows, and projects in later stages of development. We are planning 350-plus individual Zoom calls with buyers and co-producers to identify their needs and answer their questions. As a result, we expect buyers and co-producers to feel more comfortable taking part in virtual meetings organized across the last 20 business days of the market.

VA: How many virtual exhibitors do you have?

PZ: 68 companies focused on content distribution and production and eight are tech content delivery, dubbing, and monetization solution providers.

VA: How many unique buyers do you ultimately expect?

PZ: Based on our most recent assessment, we are targeting 350-plus buyers and co-producers from 200-plus companies active in sub-Saharan Africa’s 20 most active countries; broadcasters, pay-tv services, Telcos, mobile operators, streaming services, major local production companies seeking formats, and a few brands.

VA: How many exhibitors are buyers expected to visit?

PZ: Following our promotional phase, we expect 40 percent of the (80-plus) companies to have 120-plus representatives take part in the networking phase. We want each one of these representatives to be available for a minimum of three 40-minute virtual meetings with vendors per week over a period of four weeks. We will have 70-plus companies offering programs and projects, of which 70 percent will get 80 percent of the meetings (1,150-plus meetings). The other 50 percent will get the 300-plus meetings left. At a cost of $1,000 per exhibiting company, this brings the cost of each virtual meeting to between U.S.$44 and $66.

NATPE Budapest’s virtual set-up is more complex. This is NATPE’s first foray into converting a face-to-face event into a virtual market, which includes an exhibition space, in addition to virtual screenings and conference session areas. The event will take place August 24-27, 2020, with the exhibition space opening Monday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Central European Summer Time), and Tuesday through Thursday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Originally, VideoAge had set up an interview with NATPE CEO JP Bommel to discuss the new incarnation of the market, but it ultimately became an exchange between VideoAge and NATPE’s PR agent in Los Angeles.

Even though, as NATPE’s PR agent said, “everything is part of one portal” — which was reiterated in the brochure that VideoAge received in lieu of answers to specific questions — each individual function is listed as “Powered by Vision Events (the exhibition), “Powered by Rights Trade” (virtual screenings), and “Powered by Perigon” (conference sessions). No explanations, however, were given for any of these companies’ actual involvement in the market.

According to independent TV trade show experts, NATPE has basically sub-contracted technical functions of the market to third parties. Even though these third parties might specialize in those specific areas, this farming out of duties could make the process less flexible in adapting to new challenges that could develop at any stage of the virtual event.

What is clear, however, is that NATPE will be selling turnkey and custom virtual booths, which are divided into: Meeting Tables, Viewing Stations, and Screening Suites. The virtual screenings section offers three tiered options. The first has up to five title listings. The second has up to 10 titles. And the third has up to 15 titles. The conference sessions have three windows, each open to sponsorship. Finally, we were told that buyers and sellers can request and confirm meetings in the portal.

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