Peter Bart: Coronavirus Cancellations Take Toll On Entertainment Industry Big And Small

The chaotic impact of the coronavirus is affecting every sector of the cultural and entertainment scene – “an equal opportunity disaster,” in the words of one CEO. Giant companies are canceling events and re-aligning strategies worldwide. The openings of major movies like the appropriately titled James Bond film No Time to Die are being pushed back. And as major festivals face cancellation, smaller players in the film and TV industry are fearful of losing a vital resource – the ability to schmooze.

“If the Cannes Festival is canceled, the indie film business could cumulatively lose 70% of its revenues, when you add festival losses to the setbacks stemming from the trade war,” predicts Marcy Hamilton, co-CEO of TriCoast Media, a veteran indie player who visits 10 festivals a year. “If you lose face time, you lose buzz and you lose business.”

The fate of Cannes came into doubt with the cancellation of the March 30 MipTV conference at Cannes. The usually robust SXSW has also been wracked by cancellations. Mega companies across various industries this week canceled major events – Google shut its splashy development conference in Mountain View, CA, and the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona was shut down after major companies pulled out.

Movie premieres are in play as well, but, in contrast to the James Bond delay, Disney seems intent on opening Mulan in March despite the closure of 70,000 cinemas in China, which could result in a 25% loss in terms of opening numbers. Disney already had made heavy P&A commitments.

A stalwart “show-must-go-on” mentality is saving many events across the arts: Members of the shuttered Shanghai Symphony Orchestra posted videos showing musicians playing from their homes. In Venice, too, a string quartet played to an empty house but livestreamed. BTS, the K-pop band, cancelled its tour for a new album but its mock opening press conference was put online.

While decision making is day to day, major events like SXSW and Cannes publicly insist they will go on as scheduled. The SXSW event is sustaining daily cancellations, the latest being WarnerMedia, Apple, Lionsgate and Netflix, which was scheduled to premiere five films. Cannes’ pre-fest press conference is scheduled for April 16 as organizers confront an array of local and national bureaucracies in an effort to secure a firm green light. The French government officially is banning gatherings of 5,000 or more, and the Palais seats 10,000.

While major companies may lose some revenues and prestige in pulling out of festivals, the small players face more practical problems. Two would-be attendees at MipTV report they have yet to receive refunds from hotels, airlines or Midem, the sponsoring organization.

As for TriCoast, Hamilton is still hoping to take at least one film to Cannes. “Films, like fine food, have a shelf life,” she reports. Meanwhile her company, like many other indie producer-distributors, faces delayed or canceled payments from buyers in China and Southeast Asia, who claim to be facing struggles of their own stemming from the trade war.

TriCoast, meanwhile, is shifting its attention to its on-demand streaming service Dark Matter TV, offering free movies to consumers — one service, she insists, that’s still apparently immune to any form of global virus.

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