As New York City moved into Coronavirus shutdown this weekend, I wondered about the effects of the increasingly restrictive response to the epidemic on program production and delivery schedules.
NBA Started It
- When the NBA cancelled its season, most of the world’s leading Sports franchises followed.
- Next came Late Night Talk shows with their live audiences and large studio crews.
- Live music performances, and then production of scripted film and TV series came next.
- National broadcast and cable News programs are now feeling the pressure.
- Field reporters are risking exposure out on their beats.
- And then they risk cross-infection as they gather in sizable studio presentation teams.
Moving to Unscripted…
- The two key factors that shape the response of the factual television business are:
- Air travel, and
- Limits on the size of gatherings.
- Ensemble Reality shows are cancelling production, both in studio and in the field.
- A producer called me today wondering how her ‘fixed rig’ show might proceed.
- These operations are often located in drama-filled and crowded locations like hospitals where access will be denied in such a crisis.
Among the casualties in the History genre are:
- Dramatic recreations with a cast of actors.
- Big History ‘events’ involving complex field operations, like submersible dives to the wreck of the Titanic.
- Sub-genres that rely on crews who travel to distant locations:
- Examples are Egyptologists heading to Luxor, or Military historians off to Normandy.
- Programs that are based on the archive are highly deliverable.
- They may involve a small team of a producer, researcher and editor, and no travel.
- Shows that involve re-cutting and refreshing an archive may also enjoy an advantage as buyers seek substitutes for delayed or cancelled programs.
- Programs that rely heavily on CGI may also enjoy an advantage
- In the Nature / Wildlife genre, huge Blue Planet-like series must be dealing with big problems.
- They are likely to involve crews who travel to distant locations.
- And there they often mix with the unprotected populations of poorer countries.
- The elderly ratings rockstar David Attenborough is among the most vulnerable demos.
- He will likely be grounded from serving as the embedded host of Blue Chip programs.
- And lesser Wildlife talent will be reluctant to be exposed to virus risk for the foreseeable future.
- Seasonality is another factor: many wildlife stories depend on capturing in Spring the key breeding sequences, often in remote sites.
- For many species, these shoots will be suddenly off the table.
Wildlife: Singles & Couples
- Wildlife programs that are driven by single cinematographer, or by a film-making couple, are more likely to deliver on plan.
- Particularly if their projects are conveniently located near their home base.
- All the better if they own a deep archive of compelling sequences to fall back on.
- One-off LIVE Wildlife specials like Yellowstone, Alaska and Serengeti will be unsustainable due to travel restrictions and the extensive crews required in field and studio.
- On the other hand, this is a positive moment for LIVE Wildlife shows that rely on fixed camera rigs and small local crews.
- Moving beyond Natural History, I can’t see how A+E Networks’ hit PD Live and its spin offs can continue production.
- Police departments, field and studio crews, and the mainly minority populations who get hassled, are all experiencing virus restrictions.
Production Ecosystem: On a Tightrope
- The major network groups have surgically removed cushion after cushion from the programming ecosystem.
- Outside the big, repeating program franchises, well-established producers now commonly work in their basements.
- They depend on networks of proven sub-contractors who in turn work out of their garages.
- Many lack the financial or operating bandwidth to absorb a default down the production line.
- It’s inevitable that the virus itself, or maybe just the distractions of caring for stay-at-home children, will disrupt key links in the chain.
- Deadlines will be missed, and quality compromised.
- Channels may respond by deferring or refusing payments to producers.
- The economic health of the industry is walking the tightrope.
- Meanwhile, an early report shows a ratings uptick for broadcasters of as much as 7%.
- Its likely that HUTS – Homes Using Television – are rising in the absence of other entertainment and social activities.
- We’ll watch closely how this translates into revenues for networks, though these are limited because most media buys are locked in.
- Dominant streaming services, like Netflix and Disney + with their deep inventories, are likely to get a boost in viewing and subscriptions.
- Niche SVOD services may experience a higher churn rate as their shallow inventories will be exposed to consumers who are cutting costs in response to the economic downturn.
- Our industry, like my adopted city, is remarkably resilient!
- Producers, distributors and network programmers will rapidly adjust to the restrictions on their production processes, and to the oncoming recession.
- New creative solutions will arise, just as they did after 9/11 and other such shocks.
- Advantage will likely fall to the nimble, the flexible, and the deeply-researched.
- There will be winners: new ones and repeaters. There always are.
- These are first thoughts.
- I’m very interested to hear from my readers, at firstname.lastname@example.org