U.S. entertainment industry reels from industry-wide impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is delivering blow after blow to the beleaguered U.S. entertainment industry, as movie releases, film and TV shoots are being postponed or canceled across the country and internationally.

Most of the entertainment giants, like Comcast, Walt Disney Company, AT&T, and ViacomCBS, are vertically integrated with a finger in many pies, including film and television production and distribution, radio, theme parks, music concerts, Broadway theater, museums and cultural institutions, and more.

So industry conglomerates are taking hits across the board as their productions go dark, their theme park divisions are no longer the happiest places on earth, Broadway theater properties take a bow, sound stages and recording facilities shutter, and even their manufacturing enterprises go idle – all in an effort to slow and prevent the rapid spread of the deadly COVID-19.

Entertainment has usually been considered recession proof – but that’s not the case with the COVID-19 outbreak that is forcing isolation and nixing public events and performances with massive economic consequences industrywide.

This has sent entertainment and media stocks tumbling with the rest of the stock market over the past two weeks.

“This is going to have a broad impact on most of the sectors in all of the economies of the world, but entertainment will be particularly hard hit,” predicts media analyst, Hal Vogel, in an interview with U.S. entertainment magazine Variety.

FILM AND TV PRODUCTION

Hollywood studios, the behemoths of the industry, have shuttered nearly all film and television production across the board, including blockbusters like Tom Cruise’s “Mission Impossible 7,” Vin Diesel’s “Fast & Furious 9,” and Scarlett Johansson’s “Black Widow.” Smaller productions are rapidly following suit, sending thousands of cast and crew home in droves to wait out the viral storm in the hopes that jobs will await them again before too long.

“We are facing a very turbulent time for everyone in the industry. These artisans who work in the entertainment industry are generally freelancers who go from gig to gig and depend on the next job to keep paying the rent, so this is a very difficult time for them,” Hollywood producer, Jeff Most, told Xinhua.

Fortunately, just prior to the outbreak, Most had just wrapped the European and South African productions on his television series “Professionals,” a Mission Impossible type action adventure set in the rarified world of the highly-trained private military contractors and executive security who protect the rich and famous. He’d planned on doing post-production in Ireland and automated dialogue replacement (ADR) in South Africa to meet his delivery deadlines, but the shutdowns closed facilities and drove him back to LA to supervise post on his home laptop.

CINEMA AND FILM FESTIVALS

Social distancing rules are forcing theaters to take a beating, with 50 percent caps on attendance and partial closures over much of the United States, with mandatory closures in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco and other cities that began on the ill-fated Ides of March.

AMC and Regal have closed all their theaters nationwide, while Cineplex has actively reduced the number of tickets sold per theater to create social distancing between seated patrons.

Theater employees are often young people just entering the workforce and thousands of them are vulnerable to layoffs until theaters reopen.

Top indie festivals, South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin, Texas and Tribeca Film Festival in New York have been shuttered, throwing local vendors and the indie film industry into financial stress and chaos as they scrambled to find other sales and screening options. Stage 32, a U.S.-based social network and educational site with 400,000 creative professional members who work in film, television and theater has picked up some of the slack, giving SXSW filmmakers the opportunity to screen their films on their online platform.

DISTRIBUTORS

Some Hollywood studios are postponing the theatrical releases of their larger, tentpoles until later this year or early next year, like Disney’s “Mulan,” Paramount’s “A Quiet Place Part II,” MGM’s “No Time to Die” and so on.

Arthur Sarkissian, who is no stranger to how much the release date of a film can make or break a successful distribution plan, told Xinhua that postponing releases can cause other big problems at a later date.

“Let’s say a studio had four movies coming out in April, May, and June – suddenly all of those dates are completely screwed up. They are going to be looking at dates further down the line that could be competing with a much bigger movie they don’t want to go up against,” he explained.

“Everyone will be scrambling,” he warned.

To keep the public happy and avoid a complete loss of distribution revenue, some studios and smaller distributors are releasing their films directly to video-on-demand channels on the same day they screen in the few theaters still open to the public, such as NBCUniversal’s “Trolls World Tour.”

“Emma,” “The Hunt,” and “The Invisible Man,” though still in theaters, are also offering them simultaneously via VOD services, a move that theater owners decry as cutting into their traditional distribution window.

While the near-term industry outlook seems bleak, Most has poignant hopes for what he and others in the industry can contribute during these tumultuous times.

“Hopefully, the entertainment industry and the contributions that the artisans in front of and behind the camera are working so hard to make can take the edge off, lighten the burden, and fill a void by bringing a little bit of light into people’s lives in these troubled times,” he told Xinhua.

“I believe in the greatness of the human spirit and I think this tragic event will bring people closer together and bring out the best in people,” he added.