Leaders from a cross-section of entertainment and sports spoke today in a town hall on SiriusXM about the devastation the COVID-19 shutdown has had on their industries. The get-together was hosted by Dan Loney of Wharton Business Daily.
“It’s been completely devastating for the industry,” said Damon Whiteside, CEO of the Academy of Country Music. “Just this week, many of the major superstar artists tours announced that they were canceled for the remainder of the year. Many, many high profile and stadium-level tours that we were holding on, as an industry, for as long as possible, and really looking at the July dates as still potential. But ultimately I’d say a majority of them have now all officially cancelled until 2021.
“So that has huge ripple effects across the industry, as you can imagine. It’s not just the artists, but it’s all their crews and staff and musicians and you’ve got even developing artists that get to open for those superstar artists that now are impacted, don’t have a way to reach fans. The whole ecosystem has been majorly impacted. The live entertainment scene is such a major driver, especially for country, because that’s just really how fans engage with their favorite artists. So it’s been pretty devastating.”
Jon Miller, president of programming at NBC Sports, talked about the realities of broadcasting sports without fan-filled venues. “There are certain properties that you can do behind closed doors without fans where it won’t be impacted as much,” he said. “And motor sports and horseracing are perfect examples of that. You can do NASCAR, you can do IndyCar. You can certainly do IMSA (car racing) and road racing like that without fans. Horse racing, quite honestly, has not stopped. We’ve been doing horseracing live every weekend through our partnership with TVG on a show called Trackside Live. So we’re already familiar with how you do that. But once you get to the team sports, once you get to the NHL and Major League Baseball and the NBA, having crowds and fans not be there is gonna be a jarring experience for a lot of people. The only sounds you’re going to hear in basketball is guys calling out plays and the sound of sneakers on hardwood.”
In hockey, he said, “You’ll hear people skating on the ice and the sticks hitting the ice and some screaming back and forth, which will be great because you’ll get some unbelievably enhanced audio that you would not have gotten otherwise. Baseball, the same way. I mean, we all know the sounds of baseball from spring training and from playing games like that when there’s nobody else around. So that’s going to be unique and interesting for people and that’s going to be a challenge for our producers and directors and talent to cover it. But I think that people so want to see live sports because of what it represents and what they’ve missed. I think people are willing to go ahead and consume those products without fans. There’s some though that not having fans makes all the difference in the world.”
RCA Records Co-President John Fleckenstein said that, “The reality is, I think we ourselves didn’t quite realize how much we could do remotely. And I think we are fortunate on some levels in this whole situation that what we do is largely become digital over the years. And I don’t think we realized how much of it we could do remotely. So I think we are absolutely looking at ways to do, to kind of blend some of the positive effects that we’ve learned through all this with our normal course of business. I think our industry is inherently a very interpersonal one. Being in the room with an artist and talking to them about what they want to convey and how they want to create is a critical part of our business. And that part we can’t quite replicate in the world today in terms of how we’re operating. So I think that is an aspect that we’re getting our head around. But I do believe, at least in our industry and our company, that we’re going to be forever changed in terms of how we operate and how we move.”
Hamilton Producer Jeffrey Seller noted that, “Our obsession with our telephones and with all of that digital content, our face is always on the phone, was only making people yearn to go out more and to see live theater; to see live concerts; to go to ballparks and see baseball games or football games or basketball games, and really make us want to experience those live events. And now, here we are in this awful pandemic, and we can’t do any of those things. So now what do I need to do? Which is completely pivot and figure out how can I use that digital technology to still connect with my audience, and to still give them experiences that are rich and satisfying and rewarding and no doubt that’s what the EduHam program’s doing.”
EduHam is the Hamilton Education program, a classroom extension of Lin-Manuel Miranda hit Broadway play. “And obviously, that’s what our terrific news was last week,” Seller said, “when we announced that Hamilton, a film of the original Broadway production that we made all the way back in 2016 four years ago, is going to premiere on July 3rd on Disney+.”
Kay Cannon, writer and producer of the Pitch Perfect film series, said that plans for returning to work keep changing, and that nobody really knows when it will be.
“So it’s like, okay, maybe we’ll have a mid- June return and then maybe it’ll be July. I honestly really don’t know. And I’ve said this a lot to other people. I said, ‘Patience is our best friend,’ and that really, we don’t kind of know anything. And I’ve come to terms with the fact that no one kind of knows anything. But in terms of when we do return, the conversations about that are starting to come into place in terms of ‘I’m doing a musical comedy and I mostly have exterior’s left to shoot, and it’s with large crowds.
“It’s like with a lot of dancers and singers,’ and so those conversations are quite difficult, and it’s figuring out to make sure that everybody is safe and that we’re doing this the right way. So it’s kind of like if somebody came in and just slashed your budget and then you’re like, ‘Okay, how am I going to make this work – to have the same scope and creatively, have the movie that you envisioned come to life?’ But first and foremost, it really truly is all about safety. I’m with Sony and I feel like Sony is really making sure that they’re doing this the right way, as best as they can.”
Apollo Theater President and CEO Jonelle Procope noted that NYC & Company, the official marketing organization for the city’s five boroughs, has formed a Coalition for NYC Hospitality and Tourism to try to reopen the city and bring back tourism.
“It deals with the hotels, it deals with the large venues like the Javits Center , it deals with Broadway. Broadway is completely shut down, and it’s the reason tourism was such a major revenue source for the city. So, this coalition has been convened and the idea is to come up with ways of how do we reopen the city? And so we just had our first meeting and we are going to be looking at different ways to phase the reopening and to reach out to the people of New York City, as well as nationally and around the world. So they’ll still know that the city is here. It’s gone through crises before, 9/11, the financial crisis of course. COVID-19 is unlike anything any of us experienced before, but I know we’re up to the task.”
Stage and screen actor Michael Urie said that he’s confident that Broadway will bounce back, and that hopes that the shutdown will be seen as an intermission. “I’ve seen it come back from things before, obviously 9/11, housing crisis, all these things that have sort of knocked New York down and New York gets back up again. This is much different. This is much bigger, but I see it happening. And what we’ve been saying in the theater is this is just intermission. What theater-makers do is they go into an empty room and they find a way to tell a story, and since the pandemic began, they’ve been doing that on zoom or online, or in their apartments, they’ve been using the same principles of making theater in a theater, in their own spaces. And so I think if anybody is equipped to figure out how to make this work, it’s theater people.”
Rapper Clyde Kelly observed that, “Streaming will continue to grow. Certainly subscribers will continue to grow. Consumption will continue to increase. I know it’s a funny thing that consumption actually came down during COVID, but it kind of makes sense that people are switching more to YouTube than music when they’re stuck inside. I think there’s going to be a conversation because of this about revisiting the streaming splits, revisiting how much the creators actually get from these streaming services because it’s suddenly become the lion’s share of the revenue, at least during this downturn when there are no shows happening.”
Comic Nikki Glaser jokingly lamented that she always felt that if everything else failed, she’d at least still have stand-up. But not anymore – at least for a while. “It’s so funny for stand-ups because there’s so many other avenues we go into after we get into stand-up and then we start doing TV and movies and podcasts and all that stuff. But we always, at least for me – and I do feel like I can speak for other stand-ups – we always thought, in my back pocket, if everything else goes away, they can take everything else away –stand-up will always be there. And as someone who – and I’ve had a lot of success in my career, I really am at a point where whether I’m working in theaters or clubs, I can make a good living doing stand-up every single weekend, until now and now it’s been taken away. I don’t know, the next time I’ll be able to perform on stage, that was the bulk of my income.
“So it’s really challenging me to become more creative about how to keep this going and to stay afloat and to stay sharp so that I’m ready to hit the stage when it comes back, but also maybe not, maybe I stumble upon something new in this time that I realize is more gratifying than stand-up comedy. Maybe I find a relationship, or maybe I find some inner peace. I don’t see that happening, but yeah, I’m really hopeful about a life without standup. I think I’ll be okay. Which I wouldn’t have been able to say three months ago.”