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With the novel coronavirus upending normalcy as we know it from an everyday-routine standpoint, the entertainment and show business industries are keeping fluid with developments surrounding the stay-at-home orders currently in effect in numerous states and around the world.
Incorporated into the routines of millions of people sheltering in place is the practice of binge-watching their favorite series or catching up on programming they perhaps hadn’t had the time to get around to watching, which begs the question of: With so much content being consumed, will networks and streaming platforms be strapped for content if and when the global COVID-19 curve flattens, and the world returns to a semblance of normality?
“Well, it’s unknown, right? We don’t know,” Dan Rayburn, a streaming media expert and chairman of the NAB Streaming Summit, told Fox News in a phone interview.
He continued: “So, what Netflix and a couple of the other companies have publicly stated is that they don’t see it being too bad of an impact right now because content that has already wrapped production can still get edited and still get finished remotely.”
This combination photo shows, clockwise from top left, the Hulu logo on a window at the Milk Studios space in New York, the Amazon logo in Santa Monica, Calif., the Apple TV+ logo displayed outside the Regency Village Theatre in Los Angeles before the premiere of the Apple TV+ series “See,” and a screengrab of the Disney Plus streaming service on a computer screen. (AP Photo)
“And because they work in cycles – round two of content, [round] three, four, right? They’re constantly producing content and it’s throughout different times throughout the year. So content ebbs and flows into all these systems,” Rayburn explained. “It’s not like round two of all the content always comes in April. So right now they still have enough content. What they’re saying publicly is they have enough content to come for the next surge.”
Rayburn went on to note that it’s simply impossible to place a timeframe on how long production delays could last and that the smart players in the content game have ample cash reserves and have positioned themselves well to navigate the “ebbs and flows” of release calendars.
“The real question is if it’s the third part in the content producing process where production has been halted on all these other titles. How long is that delay? They don’t know if it’s six weeks or six months and nobody knows,” Rayburn said. “So at this point, nobody has any idea. It’s all opinion-based. There are no facts where you can point to a certain date or time. And we also don’t know what percentage of content is going to be impacted.”
The media consultant also dispelled the notion that certain genres such as animation are much easier to produce content for since it typically doesn’t require a live set and added that a looming golden age in animated projects also doesn’t seem as likely due to the idea that many of the best-animated programs are only on television.
“The interesting thing about ‘Rick and Morty’ is before the virus, ‘Rick and Morty’ was the number-one-rated TV show on Sunday outside of football,” Rayburn explained. “So the demographic they were targeting, which was only 21 to 40-year-old-males, whatever it was. I mean, that was incredible and we have yet to see that type of animation take off really online. To your point, most animation has really been tied around family stuff and things of that nature.”
Rayburn said that despite production still moving forward on various animated projects, progress is still slow-going as we’re still in the thick of the global outbreak, so an uptick in programming seems far off.
“I’m hearing animation obviously still has delays as well,” he said. “But animation still requires people to work together in the same room. It’s not that animation is created by everybody working in remote areas. So I don’t think that’s the case for animation.”
“I don’t think all of a sudden you’re going to see animation, just for the value of the content available, you know, really surge,” he maintained. “Also, if you think of what animation is and who it’s really targeting, yes, you do have that – some of it Japanese. It certainly is targeting adults. But a lot of animation is targeting kids. So, what happens when we do go back to school? We do go back to work, right? This won’t last forever. So I don’t see any one genre being able to take advantage of the opportunity right now in a good way more than another. And also, some of the best animation still is only on TV.”
Rayburn also discussed blockbuster film releases and whether the world could see a complete shift in the global distribution model similar to what we’ve already seen from films such as “Bloodshot,” “The Hunt,” and “The Invisible Man” that has since been made available early on home entertainment on the same day as their theatrical release dates.
Meanwhile, “Trolls World Tour” will also debut in theaters and on home entertainment on its original release date, April 10. Rayburn said this model is good for right now but is “not gonna happen” for the big titles.
“Let’s not debate it. Disney and NBC Universal have already publicly come out and said, ‘We are not doing this with our blockbusters.’ And why would they?” said Rayburn. “Here’s the thing – people keep going, ‘Oh, well just go direct-to-consumers,’ for $20.”
He pressed: “When the new Marvel ‘Black Widow‘ and ‘James Bond,’ ticket whatever movie you want – ‘Fast and Furious‘ – these movies typically gross over a billion dollars worldwide at the box office. So if Disney just has to wait a year to put it out and still get that money, why would they go direct-to-consumer to make less money?”
Rayburn stressed the fact that those entities would likely need to sell roughly 40 million tickets globally at around $25 apiece just to break even.
Furthermore, while Rayburn admits there will be a change in how we socially congregate moving forward, he strongly believes that the theater industry will in time, bounce back after the pandemic simply because people will grow tired of being in their homes and will be chomping at the bit to get outside and do things with their families and friends.
Erik Lokkesmoe, president of marketing and distribution at Aspiration Entertainment, echoed Rayburn’s assessment of what he hopes will be the psychological approach from moviegoers after the pandemic has subsided.
Through Aspiration, Lokkesmoe is launching its “theatrical at-home experience” with the streaming title “Phoenix, Oregon,” a mid-life crisis comedy starring James Le Gros. The executive believes that fully eliminating a theater distribution model would prove detrimental to those local art houses that showcase lesser-known projects.
He also told Fox News on March 20 that he absolutely anticipates an influx of new content from makers and providers when restrictions have been lifted and folks are able to move about freely again.
“Yeah, that excites me because certainly, people are going to race out to be together and go do things like restaurants and theater and they’re going to want to get out of the house,” he said. “But what’s fascinating is, if you are – we’re basically creating this little industry that is independent, do-it-yourself using really powerful technology for whether you’re a podcaster now going live, whether you’re reading a book, that’s a new audience.”
“If you are looking at them, they could now be able to direct and have some additional programming that reaches an audience,” Lokkesmoe added. “You’re creating, in the spectrum of technology, new ways for independent creators, filmmakers to deliver a lot to an audience and that won’t go away because, let’s say it’s four months from now that everything gets back to normal, people are going to be used to.”
Additionally, Rayburn said streaming networks are anticipating a steep decline in viewership after the pandemic.
“One of the things we’re hearing from some of the content guys, kind of quietly is – they actually wonder if once this is all done, the traditional viewership they saw before this actually declines a bit because people aren’t gonna want to sit in front of their TV as often because they’ve been doing it for so long,” he said.
“Or you’re not gonna watch the movies at all because you’ve kind of had your fix for a while and you’d rather go see your friends and your family and go to sports events, [which] we’ve been missing. People are gonna want to go back to sports. So quietly, behind the scenes, you have some streaming services going, ‘We don’t expect the surge you’re seeing now to keep up, even though the media’s going, ‘Oh, my God, this is going to continue.’ No, it’s going to drop off because people are gonna be like, ‘I’ve been in my house too much.’”