Africa: Annual DISCOP Event Reworks Itself - the Business of Buying and Selling African TV and Streaming Content Goes Virtual

London — The annual trade fair is dead for the foreseeable future. Those running things like DISCOP and AfricaCom have had to reinvent themselves. Russell Southwood talks to DISCOP founder Patrick Zuchowicki about what buyers and sellers really want when they go online and what he's doing to meet these needs.

The annual DISCOP event has gone online and launched last Monday. It will last three months and Zuchowicki told me that it had been "good so far. It's a different format. Forget about physical trade shows. We are building a format that keeps the trade show element out of the picture." It's focused on 500 'properties', programmes that are either completed or are at a late stage of development. We've concentrated on content from Africa."

"We've done an assessment of the situation. There are 350 buyers from 200 companies and it's helping them navigate the offerings. Those 200 hundred companies are a mix of FTA broadcasters, Pay TV companies and streamers. We estimate that 40% of them (80) will buy.

The final phase of the event - the last four weeks- will focus on deals. We're organizing 15-25 meetings for each of the vendors." The previous two phases are of the event are described as the promotional and networking phases.

We talked about the "Zoom fatigue" element that online events have discovered. It's hard to concentrate on a screen for long periods:"As a first step, we are keeping buyers' meetings down to three a week. We're also making sure the meeting has an agenda and is as interactive as possible. We don't want people having to wake up at 2pm to make a virtual meeting. As 60% of the clients are in Johannesburg, before each virtual meeting we will deliver a physical package to them."

And as a good friend wrote me about moderating online sessions:"It has left me feeling like I am doing the breakfast show on (a small regional radio station) or somewhere equally glamorous."

The challenge for virtual event organisers is to find content that really matters. The old trade show days of filling sessions with sponsors, speakers who run 'show reels' as a substitute for having something to say and the "usual suspects" will not wash as people's attention spans are much shorter online.

As Zuchowicki says:"We're launching a web channel called Discover and have hired a show producer (South African Nico Stein) and there will be 5 weekly standalone shows with a lot of virtual interactivity. There will also be 4 sessions alongside DISCOP Africa. Three of these sessions will be with major content producers looking for co-productions. One session entitled America, America will be a panel of four talent agents looking to represent African talent."

"Former trade show organisers -including me- have a lot of work on their plate. There will be a huge difference between top events and cheap events." In a Financial Times interview in April of this year, Hugh Jones, CEO, Reed Exhibitions said only 4% of its revenues comes from digital and that it was just beginning to start using matchmaking technology. Perhaps physical trade shows - often more concerned with status (through big stands) and socializing (the after parties in nice places) - may be a casualty of the current Covid-19 crisis.

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