Producers in the Hollywood state might be able to return to shooting from today – subject to an array of Covid-19 protocols – but the TV environment remains largely unconducive to the traditional methods of filming.
TBI takes a look at how companies around the world are adapting and reflects on how another week of Coronavirus has impacted the TV business.
Making the most of the manual
LA-based producers have been handed a 10-page document detailing how they can safely resume TV production, paving the way for a return to filming for the first time since March when shows were closed down as the Covid-19 pandemic spread. Yet it remains difficult to see how large scale, big budget programming – particularly scripted – can really return in any meaningful way at present. Producers in the Nordics have been able to address work-arounds to some degree, but for studio-based work and close-up scenes, the restrictions – and potential risks – are notable. The LA County guidelines, for example, suggest actors should not touch their faces during shoots, while there is to be no talking in scenes that feature actors less than six feet apart. “Regular, periodic testing” of cast and crew will also be required and live audiences should wear facemasks when possible and should also be sat six feet away from each other. Reports that the work-arounds will add a further 20% onto most productions’ budgets seem optimistic, at best, too.
As soon as lockdowns began, attention turned to the viewers stuck at home and maximising that potential. It appears Disney+ is among those to have benefited most, with TBI sibling Omdia reporting that the Mouse House streamer has already emerged as the third-largest subscription streaming service in the UK. According to new stats from the research firm, Disney+ has already amassed 4.3 million subscribers in the UK since its 24 March launch. This has led Disney+ to occupy a 16.8% market share of subscribers, putting it squarely in the upper echelon of streamers in an increasingly congested market. The researcher notes that Disney+ and other entertainment-oriented SVODs have benefited from the lack of live sports, which has cost competitors such as Sky-backed Now TV and, internationally, DAZN. Disney+’s success in the UK has been reflected abroad too, with the streamer now the number four ranked SVOD in the US, with a 25% market share in April. Disney’s more generalist streamer Hulu was third with 29%.
While some producers have been looking at ways to work around current filming restrictions, others have looked to increase their activities in more Covid-19 friendly activities. Erik Barmack, the former Netflix exec who drove the streamer’s much-vaunted international content strategy, has accelerated his Wild Sheep production firm’s moves into animation and docuseries, with a show from Vox Media’s Josh Davis among new projects. Barmack told TBI earlier this week that the US lockdown had provided his company with an “opportunity” to move quickly and more deeply into other areas, with docuseries Thief in the works with Vox Media’s Davis, and a variety of animation projects are also in development. Among them is a Sex And The City style animated show, which is in the works with acclaimed Afro-French artist Nicholle Kobi, whose work revolves around black, independent women.
Locked down audiences have, as discussed, been consuming more content than ever and it appears their programming preferences are being noted in quick-smart fashion. Newly launched streamer HBO Max renewed its first scripted original series today, handing Lionsgate Television and Feigco Entertainment a second season order for Love Life. The first run of the romantic comedy anthology, which follows Anna Kendrick as New Yorker Darby as she looks for love, had already been ushered along faster than originally planned, with WarnerMedia taking the unusual step of changing its release schedule in what it said was a “strong positive audience response”.
As previously discussed, starting a new company amidst the world’s biggest pandemic for a century is not for the faint-hearted – yet it’s clear that there are opportunities for some and there have now been a variety of firms launched and looking to make a mark as demand for content soars. European operator Asacha Media Group and distributor Abacus Media Rights launched in April and now another pair of former Kew Media Group execs have unveiled their latest venture, launching with a Covid-19 inspired tale no less. Greg Phillips, who was until recently president of Kew’s now defunct sales arm, and the firm’s SVP of acquisitions and business development Graham Begg, have launched a Rainmaker Content, which has secured global rights outside of the UK to Staged, the lockdown comedy series written and directed by Simon Evans. Starring David Tennant and Michael Sheen, the BBC drama and its acquisitions by Rainmaker is further proof that where there is a will, there tend also to be a way.