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COVID-19 and its impact on entertainment industry

COVID-19 affected everyone’s life, people, small to big business, industries and no one knows if everything will go to the pre-COVID situation or we have to accept this new normal. The cable and satellite industry also got very much affected because of this pandemic.

People were stuck at home due to lockdown, but there was no fresh content, and no live TV; viewers at home were searching for fresh content. There are, however, several strategies available at these operators’ disposal, which many Indian operators are already putting into action.

As soon as Ramayan re-run began, Doordarshan’s viewership rose exponentially. From nine million in the second half of January, it went up to 545 million in the last week of March. “These were the highest numbers we had seen in the past 5 years,” said Romil Ramgarhia, COO, Broadcast Audience Research Centre (BARC), the official TRP measuring agency in India. “Not even a sporting event [like IPL] comes close.”

During lockdown between Mach 25 and June 8, OTT consumption went through the roof. Amazon Prime and Netflix witnessed 67 percent and 65 percent surge in subscriptions, respectively, during the lockdown period. Zee Network’s ZEE5 registered an 80 percent rise in subscriptions during the same time, while ALTBalaji witnessed a 60 percent uptick in its user base.

“Normally consumers complete a series in five to seven sittings, they are now consuming in two sessions because the time for entertainment has increased,” Ferzad Palia, head of production firm Viacom18’s video streaming platform, Voot Select, said. “A lot more content is getting consumed at a quicker pace.”

As stepwise unlock started in India in the month of May, everyone knew it will take time to resume work in the entertainment industry because of two major reasons as it is not a necessary service and another big reason was most of the shooting and production work happens in Mumbai area and the number of COVID-19 cases was highest in the country.

But filmmakers, actors, and office bearers of the Broadcasting Foundation in Mumbai met Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. They stated that the lockdown enforced due to COVID-19 has halted filmmaking and requested for permission to resume the shooting.

In June, Maharashtra started allowing film and TV shoots in non-containment zones. However, only 33 percent of the crew is allowed at a set, social distancing, and sanitization efforts need to be made, and everyone at the site needs to have the Arogya Setu app installed. Additionally, ambulance, doctors, and nurses are compulsory inclusions on the set, and actors aged over 65 years of age are not allowed to work.

Despite the permissions, some players remain cautious. It is still a waiting game for digital entertainment company Pocket Aces. “In terms of timelines, we will wait for others to go on the floor and see how the situation pans out and then probably take a decision,” founder Ashwin Suresh said. “We do not want to be the first in line to do any of these things since there is no capital constraint or urgency to go on the floor until everything is extremely safe.”

The company is evaluating which shoots need to start first when restrictions ease up. “Even for these shoots, all of the pre-production that can be done remotely will continue the same way, minimizing any physical contact on sets and reducing travel as much as we can to uncontrolled locations,” he said.

Experts say that the larger outdoor shoots may be riskier, and content creators may need to adapt to different kinds and styles of content.

Covid-19 will end sooner or later, however, search for newer content will continue, even increase further. The service providers have an opportunity to provide good content and attract new customers.

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