As coronavirus begins to take hold in the U.K., broadcasters and streamers are grappling with strategies to fight the outbreak, with work-from-home policies being rolled out across the board while question marks hang over some of the country’s biggest studio and live shows.
Variety has confirmed the BBC is going ahead for the time being with live tapings of its programs, but concern around gathering audiences in close quarters are proving to be a major headache for broadcasters such as ITV, whose live variety show “Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway” is currently facing a range of contingency plans.
Elsewhere, Netflix U.K. has so far kept its Oxford Circus offices open for business, though staff have the option of working from home. Meanwhile, Amazon — as per directives out of U.S. headquarters — has enacted work-from-home measures that will remain in place until the end of March.
Similarly, ViacomCBS, which owns broadcaster Channel 5, has also instructed all staff to work from home beginning Monday.
Comcast-backed Sky held a trial work-from-home day on Thursday to test out remote working capabilities, but the directive for Sky employees is still believed to be optional.
Compared to other European countries, the outbreak has been slow to reach the U.K., which has only begun ramping up its response to the virus in earnest this week. COVID-19 has so far claimed 10 lives and affected close to 600 people so far, although health officials estimate that up to 10,000 people could be impacted.
The government has yet to institute a gatherings ban, but businesses and organizations have begun taking pre-emptive measures. The English Premier League on Friday suspended all football matches until April 3, marking one of the country’s first major responses to the outbreak.
Across the U.K.’s entertainment industry, international productions such as Studio Lambert’s celebrity version of “Race Across the World” have suspended shooting overseas, but a hit on more domestic productions has yet to take full effect.
BBC Director General Tony Hall told a Department of Culture, Media and Sport committee hearing Thursday that the public broadcaster’s “priority is to have a service people can turn to,” and as such, the BBC Broadcasting House in Oxford Circus continues to operate as normal with no changes yet in place, a spokesperson told Variety Friday morning.
Hall said, however, that contingency plans are being drawn up in case “X percentage of staff is out at one of our stations or newsrooms.” He also allowed that there could be a paring back of services in the event of a serious outbreak.
The BBC posted a notice Friday on its ‘Shows and Tours’ page, noting the public broadcaster is exercising an “extra duty of care” around guests. “Based on current advice, you can visit the BBC, as a guest, audience member and contributor,” reads the statement, unless there has been contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.