Coronavirus is laying waste to entertainment – when we need it most

The show CAN’T go on: Films have been scrapped, Glastonbury is cancelled, theatres have shut their doors, and it’s bye-bye to Bake Off… ALISON BOSHOFF details how coronavirus is laying waste to entertainment — just when we need it most

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Yes, restaurants are shut, parties banned and relatives reduced to flickering images on computer screens — but at least we have our beloved showbiz to keep us happy on TV, right?

Wrong. One of the forgotten casualties of the coronavirus crisis is the entertainment industry — in fact, this is becoming the spring when all the lights went out…

In the UK, all television favourites have been suspended: Coronation Street and EastEnders have stopped filming, the Great British Bake Off has been postponed, and even Strictly — due to start filming in July — is under threat.

In America, production of Stranger Things has been halted; ditto work on the biggest television series of all time, based on The Lord Of The Rings, for Amazon.

Oti Mabuse and Kelvin Fletcher during BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing in 2019. Strictly — due to start filming in July — is under threat amid the pandemic, writes Alison Boshoff

Hollywood has been entirely upended and the Cannes Film Festival has been canned.

In the music world, the Rolling Stones are off the road, Glastonbury has been cancelled and U.S. music festival Coachella has been postponed till the autumn. Theatres in the West End and on Broadway have all closed their doors.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the past few weeks have seen an almost total showbiz shut down.

Jonathan Shalit, chairman of the InterTalent agency, said: ‘The impact on film, TV, music and fashion is catastrophic. The positive I hold out for is that when normal life returns, people will want creativity, entertainment and joy back in their life, so recovery might be quicker than expected.’

So how are the creatives in theatre, television and film coping with lockdown? Alison Boshoff reports…

Tough times in television

The lockdown will have a serious effect on TV schedules.

In the coming weeks, broadcasters need to find and film shows to fill gaps in their programming left by the cancellation of numerous big events such as Euro 2020, Glastonbury and the Eurovision Song Contest.

Meanwhile, all scripted filming has also ceased — that’s all forthcoming dramas and soaps. Peaky Blinders and Line Of Duty have postponed production. Hundreds of actors have been thrown out of work for the foreseeable future.

Actor Mark Rylance, who starred in the Wolf Hall TV series and Hollywood movie Bridge Of Spies, says: ‘Most of us are freelance, self-employed creative workers who move from theatre to TV studio to film location . . . to wherever we are needed, wherever a story needs to be told. Most of us are not famous and are not rich.’

The Great British Bake Off would usually start filming in April. Pictured from left to right: Paul Hollywood, Sandi Toksvig, Noel Fielding and Prue Leith

Other postponed shows include the fourth series of Netflix’s Stranger Things, which is made in the U.S., and Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings prequel, which could be the most expensive TV show ever made.

The Crown and His Dark Materials are two shows which did scrape in under the wire, and thus will be available for viewing in the autumn.

Closer to home, news shows are relying on guests contributing from home. Newsnight and The Andrew Marr Show have fewer technical staff. Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid have been doing their own make-up on Good Morning Britain.

BBC One is filling the Match Of The Day slot with televised versions of the MOTD podcast, filmed in Gary Lineker’s home with a limited crew.

Though Britain’s Got Talent went out on Saturday, the series will stop at the point of the live finals week — and contestants are hoping to return in September. The Great British Bake Off is similarly affected — it would usually start filming in April, while Strictly Come Dancing starts rehearsals in July. A BBC spokesman says it is following official advice.

All of which means that come late summer and autumn, the schedules will be stuffed with repeats or cheap and quick factual shows.

However, after judge Motsi Mabuse revealed that filming for the German version of Strictly is going ahead, with the dancers being kept in isolation and no studio audience, there is hope British Strictly may go ahead with a similar set up.

Ironically, with households on lockdown, there is a ratings boom.

The Broadcasters Audience Research Board (BARB) has reported a 17 per cent year-on-year increase in live viewing, with shows such as MasterChef and Saturday Night Takeaway being the beneficiaries.

The fourth series of Netflix’s Stranger Things has been postponed (pictured: Noah Schnapp as Will Byers, Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler and Milly Bobby Brown as Eleven in season three)

Ratings for daytime TV are booming — up 56 per cent year on year since lockdown started.

The children’s channels and news channels are the big winners, as are factual documentaries, with Discovery seeing its audience double.

New subscription service Disney + has reached 50 million paid subscribers worldwide only two weeks after launching in Europe — well ahead of its own projections of between 60 and 90 million subscribers by 2024.

Sports channels, meanwhile are, suffering badly, with audiences down 75 per cent year on year.

Media analysts Enders predict a decline in TV advertising revenue of from 15 to 40 per cent, and suggest Channel 4 may not be able to ‘fully fund its existing operations’ within four months if there is a 75 per cent decline in advertising.

Enders believes the crisis will hit the channel disproportionately, as more than 80 per cent of C4’s revenue comes from advertising, compared with 53 per cent for ITV. Channel 4 has already announced it is cutting its content budget by £150 million and wants to make £95 million more in savings.

Chris Curtis, editor-in-chief of industry bible Broadcast, says: ‘Senior figures suggest our sector could be reshaped by the crisis. The shift from linear viewing to on-demand could be accelerated by the dearth in summer and autumn schedules.’

The day the music died

The music industry is a significant part of the UK economy, with a recent report saying it contributes £5.2 billion annually, with £2.7 billion a year in export revenue.

However, although streaming is unaffected by the virus, much of the bread and butter of the music industry — touring, festivals and recording — has been halted.

Live music contributed more than £1 billion to the UK economy in 2018 and this looks to be largely lost as numerous acts postpone and festivals are cancelled.

Glastonbury announced in March that its 50th festival will not go ahead this year, leaving 135,000 ticket-holders disappointed.

Glastonbury festival has been postponed amid the pandemic. The music industry is a significant part of the UK economy, with a recent report saying it contributes £5.2b annually

The Rolling Stones’ planned tour of the U.S. this spring has been postponed, along with all live events.

Some remain optimistic of a speedy end to the crisis, however. Lady Gaga has a concert date in July which remains uncancelled thus far.

The Reading and Leeds festivals are still slated to go ahead at the end of August, with acts including Stormzy, Liam Gallagher and Rage Against The Machine. Coachella, the Californian music and arts festival, has been postponed until October.

At risk are the already struggling record shops, and the industry is backing a #loverecordstores initiative to ask people to continue to buy music online from independents.

Film goes into freefall

Cinemas are closed, all premieres and promotional activity have been cancelled, and production has been halted on hundreds of films.

These include the forthcoming Batman film, starring Robert Pattinson as the Caped Crusader, Colin Farrell as the Penguin and Paul Dano as The Riddler, which was to be made in the UK.

Jurassic World: Dominion and the Little Mermaid live action reboot have also been shut down, as has Baz Luhrmann’s biopic about Elvis Presley, which was shooting in Australia when star Tom Hanks fell ill with the coronavirus.

No Time To Die, the latest James Bond instalment starring Daniel Craig as 007, was due to have its release this month, but that has been pushed back to November.

Some films which came out as the crisis was taking hold, such as thriller The Invisible Man, were swiftly moved to pay-per-view formats in a bid to recoup some of their budget.

But when you are talking about a £165 million blockbuster such as British director Christopher Nolan’s forthcoming Tenet, only a global cinema run will generate sufficient revenue. Tenet is scheduled for July 17 — the prime summer weekend — but the industry is waiting to see if cinemas have reopened by then.

No Time To Die, the latest James Bond instalment starring Daniel Craig (above) as 007, was due to have its release this month, but that has been pushed back to November

Paul Dergarabedian, of U.S. media data and analytics firm Comscore, says: ‘Movies that are extremely expensive are released in theatres worldwide for a reason — because that’s the only way you can make that money back. Look at Avengers: Endgame. How would you ever earn $2.7 billion on demand?’

Austin Hargrave of The Hollywood Reporter says the coronavirus ‘represents a watershed moment in the business … forcing Hollywood to embrace its digital future’.

Analysts at Nielsen believe streaming will go up by 60 per cent, sparking fears over internet outages — with home-working, home-schooling and home entertainment all drawing resources. In response, Netflix has switched from high definition to standard definition during peak hours, reducing traffic on European networks by around 25 per cent.

This week, Cannes Film Festival announced it would not take place ‘in its original form’. Originally, it was postponed until July, but this is ‘no longer an option’ after France’s lockdown was extended. Disney closed production of the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid in the UK last month, with the crew put on furlough using Government funds.

Actors’ union Equity has launched a £1 million fund to support members in dire straits, and Netflix and Sony have each pledged $100 million to help the creative industry.

Sony Pictures chairman Tom Rothman hopes the lockdown will lead to a ‘surge of emotional appreciation for collective experiences’, adding: ‘I think it will remind people how much they love what they’ve missed.’

Lights out and noises off

All theatres, opera and ballet houses in the UK closed on March 16 on Government advice.

The BBC has announced it will go ahead with the Proms, with options such as streaming performances (pictured: file photo of the BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall in 2014)

The Royal Court Theatre ‘postponed’ its spring season and the National Theatre is closed until June 30. The Royal Opera House is closed until April 30 and issuing refunds to ticket holders. The Edinburgh Festival in August has been cancelled.

Rupert Goold, artistic director of the Almeida Theatre, said in a video: ‘People have been so generous about their tickets being cancelled, often giving up the value to help us through. God knows we will be more reliant on our loyal audience than ever over these coming months.’

The BBC has announced it will go ahead with the Proms, with options such as streaming performances.

The New Vic, National Theatre, Royal Court and Sadler’s Wells are all streaming performances online, and Andrew Lloyd Webber has set up a YouTube channel.

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