Headshot of John Garcia, the subject of a profile arcticle

How COVID-19 is Affecting the Entertainment Industry: A Conversation with John Garcia

In many ways, John Garcia is just like any friendly neighbor in my suburb. He spends time with his family, waters his front yard, and waves hello when I bike past his house. But Mr. Garcia isn't your average neighbor. As the Senior Vice President of Warner Bros. Latin America, John Garcia also has in-depth knowledge about the television industry and valuable insight about its future.

When social distancing set in, I had to leave Boston University and subsequently ended up riding my bike past Mr. Garcia's home much more often. On one of my (now daily) bike rides around my neighborhood, I was thinking about how the pandemic would affect my major and future career in film and television, as well as the industry at large. As I waved to Mr. Garcia, I realized that he would be the perfect person to answer all these questions. So, the following day, I made a pit stop at his house and rang the doorbell. It was a little intimidating to ask a Senior Vice President from WB for an interview, but sure enough, a few days later I found myself sitting six feet away from him with a pen, a bright yellow legal pad, and lots of questions. 

job applicant handing her documents and resume to employer during interviewThe first thing I wanted to know was what Mr. Garcia's typical day looked like. But *typical* is difficult to describe when you negotiate in three languages almost daily. Instead, to Mr. Garcia, "every day is a new day." As Senior VP of the Latin America Division, he is the executive charged with strategically exporting WB's product portfolio to all existing free and pay outlets over terrestrial, cable, satellite, OTT (SVOD & AVOD) and emerging platforms across 22 countries. That is to say, he is constantly deal-making and licensing content such as film, series, and animation. These responsibilities range from initializing discussions to finalizing long-form contractual terms. He oversees a staff handling Sales, Finance/Deal Analysis/Administration, and Marketing. His legal support team is based in Burbank, CA, whilst his immediate direct report is based in London. Mr. Garcia emphasized the importance of collaboration within his diverse organization and clientele in order to coordinate the many facets of his position. This is what Mr. Garcia called the "human aspect," which is about connecting and collaborating with his whole team to make sure their individual talents all come together to form a positive and creative workplace community. 

Each "new day" brings with it fascinating, exciting, unpredictable, and sometimes challenging deal-making negotiations throughout Latin America's unique political media landscape—not to mention unpredictable and ever-changing currency exchange rates issues.

As Warner Media has moved all its business operations to a work from home setting, this "human aspect" has become increasingly important. "We have to overcome a disconnect here," concluded Mr. Garcia. With the requirements of social isolation, WB's efforts to support all employees with ongoing daily communication and provide the needed tools has become a priority. From a leadership perspective, Mr. Garcia reflected on this by saying, "With all the tools out there, everyone has their own way of communicating; we just have to adapt to it." WB’s International Division has also begun sharing presentations from multiple departments, from Communication/Publicity to Strategic Planning, for all its employees. The participation level has been a huge success with as many as 400+ participating. This has created a greater sense of unity at Warner, which Mr. Garcia described as a "major plus” since the company can educate employees about areas they would not normally have an opportunity to take part in.

In addition to changes on how they go about their businesses with social isolation, COVID-19 has also created major challenges for the creative side of the film and television industry. Whilst one of the biggest problems is a complete halt in production on all major film and television projects, writers have continued to engage remotely. With a large budget film crew averaging at about 3,300 people, COVID-19 has put tens of thousands of crew members and production employees out of work, but the company has taken the initiative to continue paying those that aren’t physically working on-set. 

Another challenge the COVID-19 brings to both business and creative is that the releases of television series have been affected by this halt in production. Series which were slated to be renewed like The Flash, for example, may not be able to release all the episodes in its scheduled time—there will be delays. "And for Latin American, we may be caught in not being able to provide Brazilian Portuguese dub assets for the entire season as scheduled as Brazil’s dubbing actors are not allowed in studio and dubbing from home may not have the same quality, again, we may have a slight delay,” said Mr. Garcia. With the potential of this delay, media companies could experience a decrease in revenue in 2020 because they aren’t able to provide all the episodes which were scheduled for release. Overall, the near future of production is as indefinite as the end of this pandemic itself, but there are projections that predict it could begin again as early as June, but obviously under different conditions. "This could just be a hiccup, and we go back to producing content by late June," stated Mr. Garcia, "or things could be pushed out later, it’s just too soon to tell." 

Key events, known as the "Up Fronts" here in the US, where major Broadcast and Cable Networks showcase their new pickup series for the Broadcast Season (Fall and Spring 2021) to the Advertising community have also been canceled. As a result, the “LA SCREENINGS” which caters to all international Programmers and Acquisition Executives has also been canceled. It is yet to be determined if they will go on virtually. Ultimately, this all means that the future of new programming is as unclear as the future of current established series. 

On the receiving end of the television production process, COVID-19 and shelter in place guidelines have significantly impacted how audiences interact with content. With everyone at home, streaming and binge-watching have become a national pass time. When I asked Mr. Garcia if he thought the increase in streamed content would change how Warner media views its traditional television programming, he stated that "people are becoming more versed in streaming devices and are learning how to find their favorites stories in alternative ways... Today you can say that it’s pretty normal for someone to have cable service and a number of streaming services." It seems now is an opportune time to launch a new streaming service like Warner's HBO MAX.

Instead of completely shifting the market towards streaming, Mr. Garcia said he sees the changes in viewership due to COVID-19 as more of a "reset button." People are going to find new ways to watch television no matter what, but the time at home and the increased consumption of both traditional and streaming media will remind people why they love movies and TV.  "It’s a good form of entertainment and people are attuned to it," said Mr. Garcia. "People have caught on and are enjoying the simplicities of life."

At the end of the interview, we spent some time just chatting about our favorite new movies and the latest binge watches. As viewers, it’s disappointing that the release of our favorite shows and highly anticipated films are getting pushed back. The silver lining is that they will eventually be released and currently there is no shortage of great readily-available content to keep us busy until then (Shout out to All American, which has been a huge success on both linear and streaming).

From a production and distribution side, the uncertainty that COVID-19 has put on the entire industry has certainly created a need for a creative approach to leadership by executives like John Garcia. Luckily, I believe that the industry's fate is in good hands. 

 

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