COVID-19 is no one’s friend, as across the board, the fast-spreading virus has already caused major economic disruption and the entertainment industry in general stands to lose billions, if not trillions, of dollars, as popular professional sports leagues cancel their season, important conference like E3 are canceled, and prominent festivals like the Cannes Film Festival are thrown into uncertainty. For film, prominent companies like Disney have been forced to delay films like the upcoming “Mulan” remake that were already set for release, which will cause more competition during the crowded summer market if indeed it is safe to go outside then, while studios across the industry have been forced to delay the production of films and TV shows.
Much of what will happen to the entertainment industry will rely upon how the economy recovers from the virus. It may be the case that mass quarantines are working, and the virus’s impact will be reduced to manageable levels in a few weeks or a month. Or the coronavirus might be a long-term thing we all have to deal with, in which case the unregulated capitalism of the United States will be its undoing as the price of goods and services will go up due to limitations on production of goods, and more and more Americans might find themselves wondering where their next paycheck will come from. If you can’t pay for rent or your mortgage, you have exactly zero dollars you can spend on movie or concert tickets, video games, music or books. If you live in a nation with national health care, like Denmark or the U.K., good for you. But even nations with sensible health care and their own strong local entertainment industries will feel the bite of the coronavirus if it becomes a long-term problem, as worker shortages, delays, and decreased attendance will still be serious problems.
Within the industry itself, large conglomerates like Disney will most likely survive. They’ll catch a cold, if you will. But small independent studios might catch pneumonia, especially as they see conferences and festivals they rely upon for publicity like E3 and Cannes (thankfully, Sundance has already happened this year) canceled.
For the short-term, entertainment companies that embrace a digital-first or digital-only strategy might see a large boost in their financials. The video game industry might see an increase in digital game sales through online stores like Steam, and more digital downloads on consoles, as more people are forced to stay home in quarantine, with nothing but time to pass. Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime Video will most likely see an increase in engagement as people abandon theaters. Sales of eBooks might increase. But it is noteworthy that these will most likely be short-term gains, entirely dependent on how much disposable income people have after the virus affects their lives, and it is noteworthy that even companies that are web-based often must still have a group of people meet in person regularly in order to produce their content (although something like a video game or an eBook you can work on remotely).
The world faces change and uncertainty because of this outbreak. One thing is for certain: The world was greatly unprepared for this virus, and we must do better to ensure that it is contained and if we succeed, we must afterwards create preventative measures to ensure that something like this never happens again. In the United States, perhaps the virus will wake people up to the need for a single-payer health care system, as well as the need to cut out gross profiteering and predatory corporate health care practices from the industry that currently stand in the way of millions of people receiving quality treatment for the virus. In a world that has 7 billion people, creating an effective defense system against an outbreak of an infectious disease should have been a priority for us decades ago.
We must persevere through this crisis. The coronavirus is a threat that goes well beyond the scope of the entertainment industry, and it will present trials for humanity that we must overcome.