The supply and release of new television content will be disrupted for over a year as a result of production delays caused by Covid-19, with the scripted sector taking the biggest hit, according to a report by the research firm Ampere Analysis. Over half of scripted titles that would normally have been released in the second half of this year are at risk of delayed release due to the current production hiatus, the firm says.
“A further 5%-10% of scripted titles which we would expect to have been released during the autumn months are likely be lost entirely due to the current production shutdown,” the company declares. “The proportion of scripted releases unaffected by the shutdown only rises above 40% in March 2021.”
Titles scheduled for release from June to August are likely to largely be in post-production. Even if production is able to restart in June, underlying effects of the shutdown will be felt in the scripted TV market for the remainder of 2020, and well into 2021, the research firm warns.
“The knock-on effect of delayed releases is a likely depression of the number of new commissions for some time after the shutdown ends, as commissioners look to fill schedules with delayed projects they have already invested in before signing off new ones,” says Fred Black, Senior Analyst at Ampere Analysis.
The analyst firm expects the unscripted market to weather the storm more easily thanks to the production of non-location-based, and Covid-related, content. “However, the delay of summer ‘blockbusters’ like The Bachelorette and Love Island will have a negative impact on even the unscripted sector.”
While a number of unscripted commissions expected over Q2 and Q3 2020 will be delayed, Ampere predicts that release schedules [for unscripted content] will begin to return to normal by the autumn, with the percentage of titles unaffected rising to 71% by October.
While commissioning of scripted content is down by 40% year-on-year (March to May), unscripted commissions have actually increased compared to 2019, partly to fill schedule gaps left by delayed or cancelled scripted series. “However, a large proportion of these titles have been Covid-19-specific commissions. If this content is excluded, unscripted commissions have been down 27% since the beginning of March.
“Unlike scripted content, commissioners can typically order enough adapted unscripted content during lockdown to cover normal numbers of new unscripted releases, as well as help cover schedule gaps from delayed or cancelled scripted content,” says the report. Fred Black adds: “This number of extra commissions will begin to wane as the shutdown ends, with audience appetite for Covid-19-specific content already showing signs of falling.”
Focusing for a moment on commercial broadcasters in Europe, Ampere Analysis predicts that they will cut programming budgets to make up for a loss in ad revenues. It adds: “Longer term, European commercial groups are expected to continue focusing on producing original content and move away from large volume acquired content deals, especially in the case of U.S. shows.”
In related news, UK broadcasters (ITV, BBC, Sky, Channel 4, Channel 5, ITN, STV, the Commercial Broadcasters Association (COBA) and Pact (the trade association representing independent television, film, digital, children’s and animation media companies in the UK) have joined forces to introduce new, industry-wide guidelines for producing television safely as soon as government guidance allows. They cover principles like giving greater consideration to people at higher risk of harm, reducing the number of people involved in a production, and considering mental health and wellbeing.
There is practical guidance around location (e.g. the physical capacity to enable social distancing and hygiene facilities), travel (minimised and with social distancing enabled), work patterns (enabling small groups who do not come into contact with other groups) and equipment hygiene (e.g. edit suites, cameras and headsets).
The guidance complements the forthcoming British Film Commission guidance on managing the risks associated with film and high-end TV drama production.
The UK’s Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, says: “I’m keen to get cameras rolling as soon as it is safe. This is a significant step forward in getting our favourite shows back into production.” Carolyn McCall, Chief Executive at ITV says, “Our production teams are now working hard to bring many more much loved shows back for viewers…[the industry has] created clear guidelines to give producers a framework within which they can ensure that their production is safe.”
Tony Hall, BBC Director-General, notes that we can only move forward with the right safety measures in place. “This guidance is an attempt to get that right. Clearly we will keep it under review.” Gary Davey, CEO of Sky Studios, adds: “We will continue to work closely with our international partners, share best-practice and continuously review and evolve the guidelines as we return to production.”
Ben Frow, Director of Programme at ViacomCBS Networks UK, comments: “The UK is a global leader in content production and these guidelines will help pave the way to getting our sector safely back up and running, as we begin to navigate a ‘new normal’. Through a consistent and collaborative industry approach, we can work together with suppliers to reframe the parameters of programme-making.”