Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Coronavirus: The Economic Impact of Lost Markets & Festivals. Workarounds for Producers

The impact on the documentary economy of cancelled markets and events due to Coronavirus precautions is serious.

A helpful approach to understanding this loss is to recap what’s involved in the distribution of fine, one-off documentaries in a typical season.

The post covered:

  • Preparation for MIPDoc and MIPTV, which were just cancelled for 2020, and MIPCOM.
  • Managing the schedule in Cannes.
  • Organizing the follow up.

Typical Meeting Schedule

Pauline describes her detailed preparation for markets:

  • At MIPTV, she meets potential buyers every half-hour for 4 days.
  • And then, there are new meetings and follow-ups over breakfast, lunch, dinner and evening drinks.
  • That’s more than 40 relationships renewed, and if she focuses on pitching 2-3 programs a meeting, as many as 100 pitches made at a market.

Commercial Losses

  • Multiply that # by the number of quality distributors and sales agents attending each market, and readers can get a sense of the scale of economic activity that is lost.
  • These are the moments where relationships and trust are built, valuable market information is exchanged, new programs acquired for the catalog, and sales deals move along.
  • Nothing beats LIVE personal contacts for selling documentaries, or for program development and concept pitching.


  • There is likely to be a sales bottleneck when the markets and festivals resume.
  • This will be comprised of:
    • Completed programs that are ready now, but weren’t pitched in the first half of 2020
    • PLUS the new programs that are now rolling out of post-production.
  • An off-setting factor is that many buyers will have gaps in their inventory due to their lost opportunities to close deals this year.

A Fragile Economy

  • Even major events may not return in their recent shape.
  • Many markets are managing the loss of major distributors as the industry shifts from a negotiable mosaic of broadcasters, territories and rights to the ‘all-rights’ model preferred by the global streamers like Netflix.
  • Others lacked insurance cover for a pandemic, and face crippling losses due to guaranteed facilities, hotel bookings, and much more.
  • Documentary festivals often depend on a patchwork of grants and other funding mechanisms, and will struggle to recover if longtime staff are laid off and their relationships lost.


  • We have no choice other than to find workarounds to the cancelled markets.
  • A positive strategy is for producers to target distributors to learn what they are looking for, and whether your projects are a fit.
  • Other solutions include market research, emails and phone calls, social outreach, and more.
  • The electronic markets and digital pitch sessions being organized as substitutes for Live events deserve heavy promotion.
  • Watch out for more information here.

The Cannes Market

My Loss

  • MIPTV, MIPDoc and MIPCOM have been the anchors of my own business development efforts for 30+ years.
  • They offer prestigious platforms for producing and moderating panels, as well as venues for meetings with a broad range of players from all parts of the world.
  • My thoughts go out to the organizing teams and the constellation of industry participants like myself who are not producers, sellers and buyers, and who thrive in these great markets, but will lose their many benefits in 2020..


For more insights into the Distribution process: