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Entertainment Evolution: What’s Happening to Content Due to COVID-19 (Part 2)

· September 4, 2020

empty seats of stadium

Continuing the theme of the previous post in this series, COVID-19 has also influenced the film, television, and video game industries. Movie releases are being pushed back or released digitally at the same time as their theatrical release (or even primarily released digitally without a theatrical release), and some films have only begun to return to filming; the television industry’s program development season drastically slowed down and, like films, have only recently begun to start filming again; and many high profile video games have been delayed.

Examining film and television, the changes are reflected in the development and distribution of content. Release dates for certain films have been pushed back once, sometimes twice. And television programming and production this year, including everything from pitching scripts to ordering pilots to the beginning of the broadcast season, was stopped or pushed back as well.

Many films in development have had to pause shooting and production has only recently resumed for some films. Some studios have also passed on theatrical releases and instead transitioned quickly to digital distribution of their films. And some of these films, such as Trolls: World Tour, have seen even greater profit following the digital distribution model than their prequels. Streaming services have also begun hosting movies previously scheduled to be theatrical releases, such as Disney’s Mulan. With Mulan exclusively on Disney+, Disney could demonstrate the viability of a new early video on demand (VOD) model; unlike the regular content accessible to subscribers of Disney+, Mulan will only be available to those who pay another $30 fee on top of their subscription to rent the movie. The success of this new model could lead others to follow suit and signal a greater trend toward digital first releases. Other innovative practices during this time include filming movies during the Coronavirus and creating fan-film versions of beloved flicks.

Movie theaters have experienced setbacks due to COVID-19. Furthermore, as these new avenues of content distribution become more heavily trafficked, staying safe, competitive, and attractive to the consumer is a tough obstacle that movie theater firms will have to surmount. However, many studios still want their biggest films to open in movie theaters first (Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is opening in theaters internationally first and in U.S. cities in stages) and some theaters such as Regal Cinemas are outlining their plans to reopen with increased safety guidelines. 

It’s unlikely that the movie industry will abandon their longstanding model emphasizing theatrical releases solely due to recent events, but this trend of increased digital releases will not disappear. While some films are returning to production with the intent to be released in theaters first as they begin to open up as well, the increase in digital releases is highly probable and it could alter the place of movie theaters in the market and disrupt the release structure of the movie industry. 

The TV industry is in a similar position to the film industry. The programming calendar itself was thrown into disarray as many stages of program development were impacted by the virus. Programs both scripted and unscripted had to stop or delay production, often resulting in incomplete seasons or season endings stitched together from the latest footage. It is only recently that many shows are resuming filming and programming is moving towards past standards.

Furthermore, television and film from the traditional entertainment industry were not the only programming impacted by the Coronavirus. We have previously discussed [1, 2, 3] how the traditional cable bundle is in decline, it appears that COVID-19 has contributed to this decline as well and reliance on streaming services for both television and film content on-demand is on the rise. Deloitte’s 14th Edition of its Digital Media Trends Survey explains that many streaming services have seen boosts in their subscribers during this pandemic. For example, Disney+ recently announced that it had surpassed 54 million paid subscribers, and Apple CEO Tim Cook has said that the COVID-19 outbreak has actually increased Apple TV+ usage. And it’s not only the most popular services that are seeing new members; services such as NBC’s Peacock and HBO Max have also seen rapid growth. Nonetheless, programming from these streaming services also was negatively affected by COVID-19 and held back much the same as the traditional film and television industry. The Deloitte study additionally details that even though streaming services are seeing an increase in consumers at this time, as COVID-19 continues, many people could cut back on these services due to “subscription fatigue” and the burden of cost.

Another sector impacted by COVID-19 is the video game industry, though it has actually seen growth during this pandemic. Production of the hardware for video games has slowed due to the pandemic and software development has become more complicated. One console, the Nintendo Switch, has even had problems with supply not meeting demand during this time. However, the video game industry itself has thrived; gaming as an activity has seen a massive boost and the newest console generations of Xbox X and PS5 are both still on track for late 2020 releases. Lockdowns have contributed towards an increase in free time for many individuals of all ages and gaming has benefited substantially from that during this time.   

Due to the lockdown, more people at home with more free time are turning towards digital activities for entertainment and gaming is no exception. The video game industry has in fact thrived during this pandemic. Deloitte’s 2020 Digital Media Trends Survey found that “a third of consumers have, for the first time, subscribed to a video gaming service, used a cloud gaming service, or watched Esports or a virtual sporting event.” And according to Verizon, gaming traffic during peak hours has risen 75% during the Coronavirus. We are also seeing a trend toward gaming services similar to that of streaming video services. [1, 2] Gaming has further solidified its position by branching out as a form of entertainment, offering varying points of entry for consumers, encompassing many genres, and covering a wide range of subjects to keep individuals of all interests entertained. Consumers are treating video games as a source of entertainment the same as movies, television, or sports and this trend is almost certain to continue past COVID-19.

In summation and recalling back to the previous entry in this series, entertainment industries have been forced to evolve and many of the industries discussed in this article are taking a step back and realizing they now have to compete not just with their peers in their own spaces, but with each other in the larger entertainment sector. Exactly how these industries will look and operate post COVID-19 is unknown but a few things are certain. First, streaming, whether live or on-demand, is undoubtedly the future of content consumption. Second, the entire entertainment sector is in the process of adapting to the changes in content creation and consumption caused by COVID-19 and many of the practices implemented as a result of this pandemic will continue to be employed from here on out. Third, while the industries discussed here and in part one of this series are beginning to settle into the changes they instituted during COVID-19, we’re likely seeing the formation of a new normal rather than a return to the normal of the past.

Innovation

New technologies are constantly emerging that promise to change our lives for the better. These disruptive technologies give us an increase in choice, make technologies more accessible, make things more affordable, and give consumers a voice. And the pace of innovation has only quickened in recent years, as the Internet has enabled a wave of new, inter-connected devices that have benefited consumers around the world, seemingly in all aspects of their lives. Preserving an innovation-friendly market is, therefore, tantamount not only to businesses but society at large.