Coronavirus Meets Hollywood. What Now?

WAXWORD

How big will that economic thumping be? Impossible to say. And don’t believe anyone who tries to hand you a hard number

This is what is called Uncharted Territory. In the space of 48 hours, the entire world of entertainment as we know it has more or less shut down. Festivals. Conferences. Concerts. Sports events. TV productions. Upfronts. CinemaCon. Broadway. Screenings.

Oh, and offices (including ours). Everyone is working from home, or as it is known to save time, space and pixels: WFH.

The only thing left fully operational right about now is U.S. movie theaters, and by the time this post is published they may be shut down too. A big chunk of global distribution is already offline. All of the big studio movies due out in the next month or so have been moved off their current release dates, so there will surely be an economic impact on the exhibition industry, at least for the next number of weeks.

So, seriously, what happens now?

We’ve never seen this state of affairs before — well, except maybe on screen (see “Contagion,” “Outbreak,” “World War Z,” etc). And I doubt that any of us are prepared for the implications. We can already see the streets of New York City emptied of people and the 405 in Los Angeles bizarrely short of bumper-to-bumper cars in the middle of the day.

But the entertainment industry — which was on track to generate a total of $2.2 trillion overall in our economy next year according to PwC, up from $1.8 trillion in 2018 — is going to take an economic thumping.

How big will that thumping be? Hard to say. In fact, impossible to say. And don’t believe anyone who tries to hand you a hard number.

Which sector will take the worst hit? We can make some common sense projections — gaming happens at home, except for the fast-growing esports category. Streaming may be hit less hard.

But the reality is that We. Just. Don’t. Know. Some say that the critical upfront advertising buying season will be just fine without the live presentations that delight the advertising world and open checkbooks for the new seasons of broadcast programming. Maybe it will. And there are probably some opportunities that will be created by the shift to stay-at-home habits. The smartest among the streamers will figure out what this opportunity is — and grab it.

Compounding the dilemma is the timing: This global pandemic forcing the shutdown of, essentially, all communal activities is hitting the industry right in the midst of a fundamental shift in platforms and behavior. The entertainment economy is at the peak moment of morphing away from cable TV and physical DVDS and into an all-streaming distribution model.

And I mean, peak: Quibi, the short-form entertainment platform built for millennials and mobile phones, launches in April. Peacock and HBO Max, the new streaming platforms from, NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia, are also about to launch in the next few months. As product launches go, debuting in a global atmosphere of fear and panic is usually not your first choice. But that is where we are.

In our now-virtual newsroom we are braced for lots of pivots and pain points. The disruptions to our work and home lives will be worth it if they slow the spread of the virus. But for the moment, welcome to the twilight zone.

Sharon Waxman

Sharon Waxman

Sharon Waxman, is the founder, CEO and Editor in Chief of TheWrap. She is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author, and was a Hollywood correspondent for The New York Times.