TV industry in COVID-19 turmoil again - how prepared is it for the 2nd wave?

It is a sense of déjà vu for the entertainment industry, as after battling the pandemic and its disastrous impact for most of 2020, it is back to square one just four months into 2021. With the tremendous surge in fresh COVID-19 cases since March this year in the second wave, various state governments have announced lockdowns and curfews to check the spread.

One of the worst hit states, Maharashtra has been put under curfew. While accredited news and media personnel have been allowed to travel and continue their operations, all shootings for films, TV serials, web series and advertisements have been put on hold within the state of Maharashtra. One would recall how the strict lockdown last year had resulted in fresh content for TV drying up and how GECs had to substitute their ongoing shows with re-runs of their old and popular shows.

Some production houses have shifted to other states and Union Territories like Goa, Daman, Hyderabad to continue shooting their shows. However, the strict COVID-19 protocols are slowing down the shooting process, besides the production costs are also higher.

Giving an insider’s point of view, Abhigyan Jha from MAJ (Mrinal and Abhigyan) Productions, said, “We had to set off in action to bring entertainment to the home-bound fear-stricken audience while also taking responsibility of the crew that was left jobless for months together in the latter half of 2020. Moreover, factors like cancellation of shoots, rethinking locations, production stoppages, strain of working with safety protocols and shortened shoot hours led to disconcerting uncertainties and diminished cash flows. Additionally, we have also had to do with increased costs resulting from moving schedules from domestic frontiers to international locations. For instance, we had to move portions of ‘Qubool Hai 2.0’ from Himachal Pradesh to Serbia due to lack of support from authorities in India.”

At the same time he was hopeful of the Government closely working with the TV industry to aid the workforce and the job creator community. “Additionally, we also successfully completed production for ‘The Socho Project’ amidst lockdown 2020, which will soon be hitting the screens,” Jha added.

At a time while the TV industry was struggling to generate fresh content last year, the OTT platforms were having a field day. There was a major transition seen to OTT platforms. OTT players also became the only platform to premiere new movies that couldn’t go for a theatre release as cinema halls and multiplexes remain shut for a major part of 2020. We saw two major international OTT players launch in India amid the pandemic – Disney+ and Lionsgate Play.

Speaking about the OTT player’s presence in India, Amit Dhanuka, Executive Vice President, Lionsgate, said, “We launched Lionsgate Play in India in December 2020. We have a great slate of content curated from across the world introduced on our app on a weekly basis, so as of now we have ample of fresh, urban and edgy titles in the pipeline.”

Dhanuka further said, “One thing is for certain, that platforms are starting to plan their content slate a lot better and also have a Plan B in place in case such events are going to become a way of life – right from having backup of locations within the country that are less affected, to controlled environment shoots to avoid delays. However, even after all the planning, the creative process has its own journey and lockdown does affect flow of content.”

Speaking on how ALTBalaji is geared for COVID-19 disruptions, its SVP, Revenue & Marketing, Divya Dixit, said, “So far, we are on track in terms of the show launches. We have numerous shows that have been shot and only need post-production and editing work, which can easily happen sitting at home. So, we have a decent roll-out plan for the next quarter. 90% of our shows are filmed indoors. We are also looking at shifting shoots at locations outside Maharashtra. Hence, there hasn’t been any major interruption per se. Even when it comes to shooting outside Maharashtra, we are ensuring the extreme safety of the crew and cast and making sure we follow all protocols laid by the government.”

In the second wave, the government is not in favour of imposing the strict lockdown of last year. Instead state governments have been asked to put in place protocols that suit the conditions in their respective states. However, the situation in the country is immensely worrying and “beyond heartbreaking”, as stated by WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Being a dynamic situation, protocols are changing and new rules and restrictions are being introduced as the need be. In case the conditions continue to deteriorate, the prognosis for the entire entertainment industry is not very good. How far this industry can bear the weight of the COVID-19 crisis, only time will tell.


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