The confirmation of the novel coronavirus—or covid-19—as a pandemic this week has come among a sea of event cancellations, as companies and event managers begin to wrestle with the reality of mitigating the spread of a virus predicted to potentially infect millions. In the world of entertainment, right now that’s meant delayed movie premieres and canceled cons like ECCC and SXSW. It’s an impact that continues to be hammered home on a daily, if not hourly, basis at this point.
Late this afternoon came news that Disney will be delaying the release of Mulan as well as Antlers and the already much-juggled New Mutants. Beyond that, A Quiet Place II is indefinitely delaying its global release, as is Peter Rabbit 2 and the next James Bond movie, No Time to Die. Fast and Furious 9, set to release in May, has also seen its release pushed into 2021. The National Association of Theatre Owners confirmed that CinemaCon, the industry gathering of press and theater owners to discuss upcoming movie releases, had been canceled entirely for the year, and WonderCon 2020 also announced a delay into later this year.
And that’s before you even consider the economic impacts—not just for the monolithic, blockbuster movie studios like Disney or Sony, but smaller studios and independent filmmakers as well, who cannot afford to take the hits companies raking in billions of dollars can. This trickles down even further in a micro-scale, especially in the case of conventions, when it comes to attending guests and artists suddenly finding themselves without a source of income they would otherwise depend on during the convention season period. Creatives prepared to sell their work at Emerald City Comic Con, for example, have announced a virtual shopping network to mitigate the loss of income the convention’s cancellation has brought, while larger attendees of these cons, like publishers and toy retailers, are beginning to grapple with the potential that even larger venues like San Diego Comic-Con may be the next event to announce delays or cancellations.
But while these are the big, flashy impacts covid-19 is having on the entertainment industry, they are only the immediate ones. The virus’ true impact is something that is going to be felt months beyond these missed release dates and suddenly-scrapped events, and not just economically (although that will be a major factor too). While right now it’s already completed projects that that are seeing delays, covid-19's impact will continue to be felt for months to come on films and TV shows currently trying to wrestle with production.
We’re already starting to see murmurs of this. Disney’s Falcon and the Winter Soldier recently scrapped a location shoot in Prague, due to the Czech Republic’s restriction on communal gatherings. This week, after a crewmember tested positive for the new coronavirus, production on Riverdale was temporarily halted. Upcoming productions with gathering casts are also having issues: Deadline reports today that Universal Television is suspending plans to enter production on multiple shows until further notice, including the second season of Netflix’s Russian Doll.
As nations across the world begin implementing measures to promote remote working or restrictions on sizable gatherings of people—like, say, actors, film crews, directors, and the myriad people involved in the making of a film or TV show—the simple fact may be that by the time we roll into the next broadcast season later this year, we may find ourselves with shows either severely behind or considering delaying their seasons to cope with the rolling impact on production.
There’s a recent precedent for a crisis like this—although it was on a much smaller scale, and one born out of important labor disputes rather than a global pandemic. In 2007 and 2008, writers under the East and West branches of the Writers Guild of America went on strike to demand better pay from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. This had far-reaching implications for U.S. television beyond the actual three-month period of the strike. Production employees unable to work lost their jobs. Shows with unionized writers changed staff, hiring non-union writers in an attempt to maintain production. Some shows were delayed entirely, after running out of episodes made before the strike, or were forced to run truncated seasons. Some shows already facing potential cancellation had their ends’ hastened.
That was just from a three-month period. It also didn’t cover the totality of the American TV and film industries, or international production—just shows impacted by writers affiliated with the WGAE and WGAW. And yet it was still a hugely important moment for the entertainment industry, leading to an estimated $1.5 billion cost to the economy of Los Angeles alone. Covid-19's impact on production will inevitably hit much harder, and attempts to mitigate its spread—or deal with actors and crewmembers who fall sick, or production members unable to do their jobs remotely—will reach far beyond the next three months.
The economic impact of the pandemic on the entertainment industry is already making waves, especially in the current period of uncertainty that is the world’s ever-dwindling financial markets. And that even in itself does not consider the personal economic ramifications that will stretch beyond, rippling out well past the scale of networks and studios and other giant corporations, but instead down to the level where it begins to impact on the families of the people who work in the industry.
The further spread of the new coronavirus (and the worsening of that spread) worldwide is inevitable. But before we begin to find our way through the other side of this pandemic’s hardest moments, its impact on the media we’ll be consuming—whether it’s shows and films being made right now, or media we binge-watch thanks to the opportunity social distancing will provide—will possibly be felt far beyond those moments, for many months to come. Before they get better, things will continue to get much, much worse.
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