Lights Out. How Much the Pandemic Cost the Entertainment Industry
June 24, 2020

In 2019, Hollywood broke its own record for box office revenue — over $42 billion. 2020 has been the hardest time for the movie-making industry in the past 20 years
In February, when Hollywood didn't yet realize the real scope of the pandemic, the entertainment industry expected to lose several hundred million dollars. In spring, the losses amounted to $20 billion — the problem that the American media business is facing becomes awfully clear.

According to the forecast of Ampere Analysis, in the next five years the losses of the world video manufacturing industry will amount to $160 billion. In 2019, Hollywood set the world record for box office revenue — over $42 billion. In 2020, the American production companies are having the worst time in the past 20 years.

"The classic cinema chain is in trouble — but it was already in trouble anyway," Hollywood special effects artist Doug Larmour thinks. "A lot of the smaller shows are deciding to release on streaming services." Larmour is partially correct.

While the ratings of linear television were growing in the wake of mass self-isolation, advertising revenue has dropped to a dangerous new low. According to the Ampere report, the market of television and Internet advertising risks losing almost $40 billion in 2020.
Despite last year's stagnation, Netflix has unexpectedly closed the first quarter of 2020 with 16 million new subscribers and record traffic. The audience of Disney+ has recently exceeded 54 million. The fact that the pandemic has improved Apple TV+ ratings was also confirmed by Tim Cook.
Europe is Closed
Large players, including The Walt Disney, Netflix, and Warner Bros., have made a serious investment in production in Great Britain. Last year, Disney signed a long-term lease with Pinewood Studios near London, while Netflix started to organize its own production hub with 14 sound studios, workshops, and offices in Shepperton Studios. Warner Bros. has its own studios in Leavesden that were also frozen due to the pandemic.

Hundreds of people are out of jobs: some media companies survive, while some have already gone bankrupt. On the one hand, the protracted lockdown stimulates the creative boom in the production sector, as the industry renews its processes slowly, and the demand for content increases.

"Streaming services are screaming out for content," Larmour said. "We're very lucky in the UK and Europe in many ways because it's a very attractive place to shoot."

The Czech Republic is one of the first countries that renews film production after the international lockdown. Local industries plan to set in motion television programs and the filmings that had to be paused during the crisis.

For instance, Amazon Studios has two main projects that are prepared to start filming in the Czech Republic: the new season of Carnival Row (starring Orlando Bloom) and the upcoming fantasy TV show The Wheel of Time based on Robert Jordan's bestselling novels. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was also filmed in Prague when the pandemic swept Europe.
Paramount Theater, Austin, USA. Photo: Brittani Burns
Filming in the Czech Republic remains problematic for international teams. Although Prague has reopened borders for EU and UK citizens on April 27, for most non-Europeans the entry ban still applies. However, exceptions are made for actors and film crews all over the world.

There is almost no place left to show the work of studios and agencies. And most importantly, there is no one to show them — all key offline events have been canceled, postponed, or are being switched to online.

Shanghai IFF that was scheduled for June 13—23 has been postponed for an indefinite period. Nonetheless, in May the Chinese government allowed the reopening of cinemas under the condition that special safety protocols are followed.

The Venice Film Festival and the Toronto IFF are still planned to be held in September — which means we have a chance to see an example of the events in the new reality. The Cannes Film Festival was canceled, as was the Cannes Lions. The only ceremony from the list that has been successful enough to be held so far is the 92nd Academy Awards.
The classic cinema chain is in trouble — but it was already in trouble anyway
The country that is the second by box office revenue also suffered losses. In 2019, the international box office revenue in China has increased to a record $31.1 billion, but since the beginning of 2020, about 70,000 cinemas across the country remain closed, and the protracted moratorium for releases has rapidly decreased the revenue of both Hollywood and Chinese movie studios. By early spring, the losses of Chinese cinema networks have amounted to over $2 billion.

India has imposed strict restrictions on March 25. According to the Producers Guild of India, the freezing of the Bollywood movie production has impacted about a million people: in 2019, India officially released 1,833 movies, and this year's expectation is for at least half this many. There is a total of 9,527 big screens in the country, and 6,327 of them are in the cinemas with just one cinema hall. In the post-pandemic world, many halls will close for good: Bollywood will lose between $1 and $1.3 billion.

The Nigerian film industry is filled with contradictions. The pandemic has seriously impacted the finances: while Nollywood producers were trying to prioritize the quality of movies, the audience kept growing, and such giants as Netflix could push their content into the country (although Netflix Originals did freeze the filming of its first series in the territory of Nigeria). The founder of the cinema network Filmhouse Moses Babatope anxiously observed how the government decree closed Nigerian cinemas one by one: "We've been through other difficult times, but this crisis is even worse." According to the AFP, about 50,000 people employed in the industry in Nigeria are now out of a job.
'The World is Closed'. Photo: Edwin Hooper
Hollywood aims to relaunch production, because the box office has been down to almost zero, and 200,000 film and media professionals worldwide have lost their jobs. As countries start to ease restrictions, productions and TV studios develop plans to return to business.

The shooting of the popular soap opera Neighbours is already being resumed in Australia: the actors will maintain distance on the film set, and the shooting itself will be carried out at a special angle so that it would seem that the characters are closer to each other.

According to the new rules, no more than 100 people can be involved during shooting days, intimate scenes are off the table, male actors will not have any makeup on, and a nurse must always be present on set, Chris Oliver-Taylor, the chief executive of Fremantle Australia, told ABC News.

According to the estimations of the Screen Producers Australia, freezing video production has cost the country over $2 billion — and this is also part of Hollywood's problem. As California still has strict restrictions imposed, shooting in Hollywood has also been frozen, and release dates of many films have been postponed.
Berliner Ensemble. Photo: Moritz Haas
It looks like there won't be anything to watch this year
Lionsgate has postponed the John Wick premiere for a year. Walt Disney Studios has moved several projects: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was pushed to March 2022, and Thor: Love and Thunder by Taika Waititi will also be released on the big screen in 2022.

Sony Pictures has moved the premieres of sequels for Spider-Man and Venom, Warner Bros. postponed the world premiere of Batman for October 1, 2021.

One of the most awaited projects — the special episode of Friends was scheduled to be screened on HBO Max on May 27 but it is now postponed indefinitely.

Another piece of unlucky news: in New Zealand, the filming of the new Avatar movie fell through for Disney (and James Cameron).
We've been through other difficult times, but this crisis is even worse
In Los Angeles, showrunner of the Pose and American Horror Story Ryan Murphy was working to create a film adaptation of The Prom musical for Netflix. Production was stopped because of the pandemic just several days before the filming was planned to be completed.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, in mid-March, the loss of box office revenue all over the world amounted to about $7 billion — partially because all cinemas closed in China. As the virus spread, this figure also grew: by the end of May, the losses were over $17 billion.
Fewer Films — Less Advertisement
The losses of the Canadian industry (second largest filming base for Hollywood movies) will amount to about $1.8 billion if the projects are not restarted by the end of June. The lockdown will reflect on over 172,000 employees of film and media, the Canadian Media Producers Association reports.

"COVID-19 has brought media production in Canada to a screeching halt," said Reynolds Mastin, President and CEO, CMPA. "These numbers should serve as a wakeup call for what's at stake, and motivate us all to work together to ensure the industry can get back on its feet as quickly as possible once this crisis ends."
Meanwhile in Ukraine
Malls have gradually started working again in Kyiv, but the cinemas aren't open yet. Back in March, it was estimated that the losses of the Ukrainian box office will amount to about $1.9 million — just a small fraction compared to what is going on around the world. "Multiplex takes up about 40% of the film industry market. Based on that, we can calculate total losses," Multiplex CEO Roman Romanchuk explains. Planeta Kino is supposed to open on July 2.

Filming of advertising and music videos is also on pause. Nevertheless, Ukrainian video production companies are working — internally and outside the country.


Darko Skulsky
We have already started working on small projects remotely, and have already created our guidelines [for this format — Ed.]. We plan to optionally travel to shoot when the flights start again. At least so that one director and a couple of creative teams could support projects abroad. However, if everything remains closed until September, or even worse — until New Year's, everybody will fight for the local market. And American clients are very eager to shoot.


Anastasiya Bukovska
During the lockdown, we filmed projects in mobile teams of up to ten people. Each person combined several roles. Thanks to the teamwork that has developed over the years, everybody worked quickly and accurately, like surgeons in the operating room. The result turned out to be very emotional. We made campaigns for Kyivstar — Just Stay Home and McDonald's — Windows.

We didn't pause, so we didn't feel the impact of lockdown on our work much. The only difference is that our entire team doesn't work together in the office every day.
We became more mobile, every in-house employee is multi-talented, and is responsible for several tasks at the same time. We work based on new standards of safety and sanitation developed by our team exclusively for the entire industry.

Our film crews are now limited to 50 people. We often use the instrument of remote shooting — only idea owners are on set, all the others are watching a live stream.
Everybody worked quickly and accurately, like surgeons in the operating room
We constantly develop ourselves and improve our skills to compete in this big world. In recent years we did many projects around the world, and now we can concentrate on the local market and support Ukrainian businesses with our experience.

We live in the content era, and we can't deny the fact that its lifetime is often catastrophically short. That's why we clearly understand the tasks that our client puts in front of us, and find the best solutions. Today we are talking more about compliance. Everything should pay off. Respect today is based on these things.


Max Balter
2020 had a very active start. In January, there were two projects that I produced remotely while being in Asia. In February — a large service project for the client in America. In March, we started gaining momentum, as January and February are considered low season. When the lockdown was announced, we had three ongoing projects. All of them were frozen at first and entirely canceled later.

During the lockdown, we filmed two projects: a music video for a Ukrainian artist and a short horror about self-isolation — Together.

When working on the music video, we used the full crew while trying to comply with the safety precautions as much as possible. We decided to limit the shooting to one large location to minimize traveling around the city.

We used a small film crew to work on Together, but it was mostly due to the budget limitations than the lockdown restrictions. It was a very interesting experience; having to do many things on our own.

Creating the movie by yourself is both interesting and difficult because on the set you have to be different things at the same time. For instance, I was a director, a producer, I edited the script, served as a casting director and a stylist, carried lights and props during the shooting.
It is difficult to forecast how the market will be coming out of the lockdown. Many companies have suffered considerable losses and had to cut their spending on advertising. Artists had tours and gigs canceled — accordingly, they didn't earn the money that they planned to spend on music videos. The borders are still closed, and we can't bring the foreign clients in.

I think that there are two options for how this may go.

The optimistic one — there is unmet demand on the market that will surface after the lockdown restrictions are lifted completely.

And the pessimistic one — the market will take time to gain speed. Many will have to retrain and find a new job. Production companies will fight for every client to survive.

I think that the pessimistic scenario is more likely. And I can even see some benefits in it.

There will be higher requirements for professionals. The market will squeeze out all those who are not competent enough. People will value their image more, which will make them more responsible for the work that they are doing. Life shows that good professionals are never out of work.
It is easy to make a quality product on a big budget. However, not everyone can do something cool with limited resources
To be honest, last year was like a gold rush. I know people who had 25 days on set a month, and because of this rush people burned out, and the quality of the work they did dropped. Now, when teams have 1—2 projects a month, they value each of them and give 100%.

The shooting conditions have already changed. Everybody has burned through their savings, and realize that the market dictates the terms. Almost all coalition productions have decreased their prices and opened subsidiaries to provide work with smaller budgets to their people — even if the terms do not match the ones established by the coalition.

Everybody has already felt that budgets decreased. It is easy to make a quality product on a big budget. However, not everyone can do something cool with limited resources.

We try to maintain professional fees. We explain to the client in detail what costs what, and what we can afford on their budget and what we can't. It also happens that the client has physically no money. In this case, we work on credit or arrange discounts. It all depends on the project.

We planned to film 20 projects in 2020. I think we can do it. Our main principle is to film projects that we believe in. Figures come after.
In summer, the damage done by the pandemic to the entertainment industry has reached $30 billion, and this figure has been growing every day.

The American media business itself is estimated at $717 billion — about one-third of the world industry that includes films, TV and advertising, streaming services, music, podcasts and radio, publishing houses, video games, and also supporting services and products. Before the pandemic, PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) forecasted that by 2023 the volume of the internal production sector in the US would exceed $825 billion.

Even if it is possible to avoid the second wave of the pandemic, the revenue of companies that serve the entertainment industry will change considerably. When cinema halls are open for visitors again, they will likely be very different from what we are used to. "Will we want to be in a room full of strangers again?" The Atlantic rightfully asks. There are still optimists in the theater world. "We must reopen. Some, with leftover money to spend, need the theater", British impresario Lloyd Webber says. He is also partially right.
Cover: Nick Bolton, Unsplash
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