Television companies around the world are bracing themselves for the impact of the spreading coronavirus (COVID-19). With Italy (as of today) now one of the worst-affected countries, this morning’s full year 2019 results presentation for Mediaset was dominated by concerns about the virus.
Mediaset reported that after a healthy increase in ad revenues for its TV, radio and digital platforms in January and February, they turned negative in March as COVID-19 spread. This followed a difficult 2019 in which net advertising revenues fell 7%. Management of the Italian company were unable to give the usual guidance for their revenue expectations this year given the fast-developing crisis. Italy was put under complete lockdown this weekend, with social gatherings and sports matches cancelled, schools and universities shut and travel restrictions introduced.
In response to the crisis, Mediaset has extended the free promotional window for subscribers to Infinity, its subscription video-on-demand service, to two months. Italy’s public broadcaster Rai has meanwhile increased its output of children’s programming, adding a new children’s slot to its Rai 2 channel and on its Rai Play and Rai Play Yoyo online services.
More widely, restrictions on travel and the size of gatherings are causing widespread disruption to the TV industry. The Series Mania festival due to be held in Lille later this month was cancelled this morning, following the earlier postponement of the Mip TV market in Cannes and other events like Broadcast Asia and Cabsat.
TV productions will also be affected. US broadcaster CBS suspended production of its reality series The Amazing Race while in the UK the ITV soap opera Coronation Street will require rewrites after a cast member self-isolated. The UK producers association PACT, revealed today that producers have encountered difficulties in getting insurance protection for their productions.
With more countries expected to introduce lockdowns similar to those so far seen in China, South Korea and Italy, TV and video industries services are likely to experience an increase in audiences. However, advertising-funded media will be severely hit by declining economic activity or, worse, recession. Subscription-funded media are unlikely to be as badly hit and may even benefit as people forced to stay at home from illness or isolation will have more disposable time than if they were travelling to and from work.
The postponement of industry markets and get togethers can be mitigated by a move to online. One internet-based TV programme sales platform used the opportunity of Mip TV’s cancellation last week to offer a month-long trial for its service. The disruption to production, however, could be more serious, causing revenue losses for already hard-pressed companies as well as having implications for a mainly freelance workforce.
Disruption to the sporting programme around thr world will also have a major knock-on effect for broadcasters. Italy has suspended its entire football league, as well as international rugby matches that were due to take place this month. Tonight's Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City has also been suspended over fears that players may have been exposed to the virus.
There are also question-marks over whether the Olympic Games in Tokyo and the summer's Euro 2020 finals - due to take place in several European cities - will still go ahead. US rights holder NBC has already sold more than $1 billion in ad revenue for its coverage of the summer Olympics.