Return of TV Production Represents Big Gamble Given Risk of Second COVID-19 Wave

Return of TV Production Represents Big
Cheyne Gateley/VIP

The COVID-19 TV production drought is about to break.

With big and small screen production resuming in California this week, studios and networks can breathe a sigh of relief. While California doesn’t represent all of TV production, it is home to a number of studios who produce a significant amount of major shows. The industry can begin catching up for the months where shows languished in production and post-production, as well as finally start to create new series.

The question is, what strategy do they employ to catch up?

VIP has analyzed the situation, and identified four possible outcomes for TV shows. There are two factors at play here. One is within the control of networks and studios in the amount of production that occurs. The choice here is strategic and boils down to how likely decision makers think a second wave of COVID-19 is.

Roll the dice that there won’t be one, and you run the risk of a content drought if production comes to a halt in the fall. Studios who are conservative on risk and opt to increase production to maximum capacity could end up with a glut of shows should the pandemic fall out as a “one-and-done” deal.

Were that scenario to occur, it may not be as bad from a bottom-line perspective than had the pandemic struck a few years earlier. With more and more streaming services launching or revamping, together with MVPDs looking to have exclusive content in order to give subscribers a reason to stick around, demand for original content has never been hotter.

Another option to consider: shorter season orders. It is one thing to be able to shoot different shows with separate casts simultaneously. It’s quite another, verging on the impossible, to shoot double the episodes of a show in half the time. This will impact network juggernauts like “Grey’s Anatomy” or “Law & Order: SVU” the most.

The flip is cable or streaming shows may opt to go to the “Breaking Bad” and “Game of Thrones” playbook by commissioning a season that’s around 50% longer, but with the option of splitting it into two, lest the virus return and interrupt the schedule.

The content drought of 2020 impacted both scripted and unscripted content. While some unscripted shows were able to carry on with filming on-site, others, notably competition and game shows, have been unable to shoot new episodes. Thus, networks and services relying on original content have been impacted, regardless of content type.

VIP’s analysis highlights what is at stake for major media firms. Only Fox has a portfolio where one network would be impacted by unavailable originals. The recent trend of big mergers and diversification into streaming services means that it is more important than ever for the strategy around production to be correct. Our view is that the conservative stockpile is the best option to employ. 

While this will mean a greater cash outlay upfront, multiplied by the increased costs of shooting while the virus is still live, it means that a media company will be well positioned to ride out any further shutdowns. Although it may mean sitting atop a content stockpile should the virus not return, this can be offset by ordering less content in future years. With competition between services as well as the battle for consumer eyes and wallets heating up like never before, running the risk of having few originals at some point in the next 12 months will be a decision only for those with nerves of steel.