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Coronavirus Takes Toll on International TV Industry With Travel Bans, Cancellations

Coronavirus
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Europe’s coronavirus outbreak is causing major headaches for the international TV industry as numerous companies move swiftly to rein in foreign travel and cancel crucial pitch events and company gatherings.

The outbreak, which has so far claimed 56 deaths in Europe, comes at a particularly frenetic time for the local TV industry, which holds a number of internal conferences and external pitching events alongside a raft of spring festivals and markets, such as France’s Series Mania, MipTV and Canneseries.

The vast majority of international studios and super-indie groups are now closely monitoring the coronavirus outbreak, with WarnerMedia, Sony and NBCUniversal going a step further to instate travel bans.

In a statement Tuesday, WarnerMedia told Variety: “To help maintain the ongoing health and safety of our employees, WarnerMedia has suspended international travel (continent to continent) and is limiting in-country travel.”

The company added that it will “continue to monitor developments,” and take steps in line with CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and WHO (World Health Organization) recommendations. Variety understands that a Warner Bros. event scheduled to take place in Germany ahead of next month’s MipTV market has also been postponed.

Elsewhere, NBCUniversal is also restricting travel for global staff. A spokesperson for the company said: “As of now, we are following the U.S. State Department travel guidelines and have advised that non-critical travel outside of an employee’s home country should be paused.”

Meanwhile, Variety understands that Sony has also rolled out a travel ban, although it is restricted to travel in APAC as well as Italy’s hardest-hit regions of Lombardy and Veneto.

Earlier on Tuesday, Disney revealed it has canceled its highly anticipated European launch event later this week in London for streaming service Disney Plus, citing a number of media attendee cancellations and increasing concerns at the prospect of international travel.

Elsewhere, Amazon is taking steps to curb travel among staff, with a spokesperson confirming, “We’re asking employees to defer non-essential travel during this time.”

Meanwhile, Variety understands that Netflix is also judiciously following health guidelines for its employees, cast and crew, though it’s still unclear whether it has instated a full travel ban.

The timing of the coronavirus outbreak has caused extensive disruption as it has fallen in the weeks leading up to Cannes-set TV market MipTV, during which a number of pitching events — largely for unscripted formats and programming — take place around Europe.

Variety understands that German media giant ProSiebenSat.1 has cancelled its European Pitch, an annual formats event that was set to take place out of Munich mid-March, while Discovery also called off a pitching event out of the Nordics, instead switching to a video conference call slated for early next week.

Major distributors such as Endemol Shine Group and Fremantle have also pulled the plug on pre-MipTV events, where the super-indies’ networks of producers pitch to external distributors. In addition, Fremantle was forced to go ahead with its London-based internal conference without a host of international executives who normally fly in for the annual powwow.

A Fremantle spokesperson told Variety: “We have been monitoring government guidance closely over the past few weeks. With business travel becoming increasingly more complex, our first priority is the well-being of our team. As a result we made additional plans for our International Development conference to ensure that those who couldn’t be present could still be part of the event.”

The TV industry is now waiting on tenterhooks for the final word on the fate of Cannes’ MipTV market, which is scheduled to take place from March 30-April 3. Organizer Reed Midem has said it is constantly “monitoring” the situation, but many businesses are growing restless at the uncertainty around whether the show will go on or not.

While most markets and festivals will surely feel the impact of the virus’s wide-reaching upheaval, the timing is particularly unfortunate for MipTV, which was set to unveil a reimagined market this year, fully centralized within the Grand Palais.

Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.