EXCLUSIVE: Britain’s major broadcasters have spent recent days drawing up coronavirus plans, as the spread of the disease threatens to wreak havoc on production schedules and disrupt major events.
Deadline understands the likes of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 are giving serious thought to how COVID-19 could put in-house and independent producers at risk, and are considering whether to pull the plug on or delay certain shows. One person familiar with the thinking said there has been “mild panic” as TV has woken up to coronavirus, and the broadcasters stressed they are closely monitoring Public Health England and World Health Organization advice.
The BBC has been reviewing shows that are about to start filming, according to various sources, and is giving thought to productions that involve international filming, big crowds or live audiences. It comes as coronavirus has infected 92,000 people worldwide, claiming the lives of 3,000.
One show said to be at risk is BBC One’s Celebrity Race Across The World, which is on the brink of production and will involve stars traveling thousands of miles across different countries, potentially entering coronavirus hotspots. The celebrity edition is not to be confused Season 2 of the original Studio Lambert format, Race Across The World, which has wrapped and will air on BBC Two later this month.
BBC Studios is also keeping a watchful eye over its production schedule and although there are no immediate concerns, some thought could be given to whether programs like Antiques Roadshow need to be assessed because they are filmed with big groups of people.
As one producer noted, making TV is a very social activity. “It’s all very well saying self-isolate, but TV production is about going out into the world and mingling with people, or bringing audiences to studios,” they said.
Channel 4 has identified shows that are part of an “at-risk productions” list, according to two sources. As well as projects involving filming overseas, like First Dates Hotel, UK hospital shows are being looked at, which has raised questions over brands like 24 Hours In A&E. One person said hospitals may lock down access to mitigate the risk of coronavirus spreading.
ViacomCBS-owned Channel 5 has also drawn up a list of productions that are filming or about to film overseas as part of an information-gathering exercise. There are no current plans to cancel any shows, but a watching brief is being maintained as the situation develops. Particular scrutiny is being applied to Viacom International Studios, where in-house producers could be subject to group travel restrictions.
Meanwhile, ITV CEO Carolyn McCall said today that the company is “working through our contingency plan by program genre,” while ITV Studios staff are getting specific advice. Employees need to sign off from their managers on certain travel requests, for example. “We’re following all of the guidance you’d expect, we are communicating with our staff every day. There are specific production communications, they do different kinds of work. So far, we haven’t had to change anything we’re doing on the production side,” McCall said an earnings call.
Sources told Deadline that on top of international filming, broadcasters including the BBC are giving serious thought to entertainment shows involving live studio audiences. Producers are keeping fingers crossed over studios remaining open and are weighing up ways to vet audience members. A worker on-site at Maidstone Studios, home to shows including ITV’s Catchphrase, was diagnosed with coronavirus this week, although it was an employee at an NHS Trust at the Maidstone business park rather than a crew member on a TV show.
BBC checking insurance on major events
Beyond day-to-day productions, the BBC and ITV are also mindful of the fact that coronavirus could derail major sporting events, including the Olympics and Euro 2020. One source said the BBC is actively checking its insurance arrangements on its TV rights deals for these events, as well as others including the Eurovision Song Contest, Glastonbury and Wimbledon.
ITV CEO McCall said the broadcaster has “an eye on Euro 2020.” Any cancellation would likely prove extremely costly for the broadcaster in terms of lost advertising revenue. The BBC and ITV are already having to adapt their coverage of the Six Nations rugby, with matches being postponed.
One senior industry figure imagined a nightmare scenario in which major events are axed and TV shows are canceled, leaving the BBC and ITV with hundreds of hours to fill in their schedules. Such a perfect storm would be pretty much unprecedented in the UK and could mean that the TV schedules are packed with repeats and re-runs.
Beyond the British broadcasters, coronavirus is also having an impact on TV events in Europe. Most notably, Reed Midem pulled the plug on the MipTV market later this month, meaning thousands of buyers and producers will not converge on Cannes for the annual gathering.
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