Netflix has dismissed fears about a shortage of new TV shows and movies as filming grinds to a halt during the coronavirus pandemic - but not everyone is convinced.
Indeed, industry experts have warned that the streaming service, its rivals and conventional TV broadcasters and film companies the world over may only have enough new programming stockpiled for another few months of new releases.
So what is the situation?
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In a bid to reassure both viewers and investors, Netflix bosses last month insisted that the service has a stockpile of shows in reserve because new programmes are commissioned and produced so far ahead of broadcast.
However, during an appearance on CNN, the company’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos admitted that a longer-term hiatus in production could cause problems.
“We’re pretty far ahead, so we don’t see any disruption in our output over the next few months,” Sarandos said. “You know, maybe later in the year if this progresses longer we’ll start feeling some of that as the production side isn’t operating.”
Concerns about potential programming gaps are growing across the entire television industry, with Netflix’s network and cable rivals “stopping even currently airing seasons short after just a couple weeks into the shutdown”, says Forbes.
The cinema industry has been equally disrupted, with the global film release schedule “upended by the pandemic”, adds The Guardian.
The UK film industry alone is expected to lose £400m in ticket sales, based on equivalent figures from 2019, “as 52 million cinema-goers stay at home” during the coronavirus lockdown, the newspaper reports.
Globally, total box-office revenue losses stood at around $7bn (£5.7bn) by mid-March, according to the Hollywood Reporter - a figure that could increase to $17bn (£13.8bn) by the end of May, warns the World Economic Forum.
An industry on pause
The spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus has halted production on film sets worldwide, from Bollywood to Hollywood and further afield.
Despite the company’s reassurances, Netflix has also ceased almost all filming, with high-value productions including hit show Stranger Things on hold, along with a movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, reports Bloomberg.
One of the key problems for the industry is the uncertainty surrounding how long lockdown measures around the world may stay in place.
“No one knows how long it will be until we can safely restart physical production in various countries,” Netflix said in a letter to shareholders in April. “And, once we can, what international travel will be possible, and how negotiations for various resources (e.g., talent, stages and post-production) will play out.”
Could casts and crews quarantine together?
In the absence of guarantees from many governments on when lockdowns will be fully lifted, entertainment producers including the BBC and Tyler Perry have discussed the idea of quarantining casts and crews together.
Such measures would “involve more sacrifice on the part of the cast and crew not seeing their families for a longer period of time”, Michael Jackman, executive vice president at FilmNation Entertainment, told Fortune magazine.
“But we will treat it like we are on a film shooting in a remote location and isolate for the prep and shoot.”
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Cinema will return
Despite the significant impact on the coronavirus pandemic on the industry, signs of recovery are emerging in some places where lockdowns are being eased.
In Australia, production is already resuming on long-running soap opera Neighbours – with extras being used sparingly, actors social distancing on set, and camera angles carefully planned to make characters appear closer together.
In an article for The Guardian, costume designer Kristin M. Burke insists that “reports of the death of the film industry have been greatly exaggerated”.
Despite production schedules being thrown out, soaring insurance costs and ongoing unemployment among many actors and crews, “the feeling across the industry is one of cooperation – we are all in this together, and we will work with each other to get ourselves back on our feet”, Burke says.
After all, she adds, “the film industry loves nothing more than a good comeback”.
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