Television players across Asia are being tested in a big way as all-out efforts to contain Covid-19 continue. ContentAsia talked to more than 50 companies in 13 countries to track an industry in various forms of lockdown across Asia.
TV production across much of Asia is hanging by a thread, with ca–tastrophic forecasts and sweeping fear, but on the whole, it’s hanging on. Just. While production in the Philippines has ground to a standstill, broadcasters and producers in other centres are keeping a close eye on the situation, adjusting where necessary and implementing measures to protect cast and crew from Covid-19 rather than pulling the plug completely. Live audiences were the first victim of containment measures, and broadcasters across the region were quick to comply.
Having grappled with the fallout of the epidemic since December last year, the experience of mainland Chinese broadcasters may be offering some relief from these dark early days in the rest of Asia.
In China, initial disruption has settled into a new normal that builds social distancing into the production process. This so-called “cloud production” could be the industry’s most significant trend this year.
Hunan TV’s live broadcast of its iconic Lantern Festival Gala in early February, for instance, was done without a live audience. This was followed by two new shows – Day Day Cloud Time and Hey What’s Up – using video feeds to gather celebrities and guests instead of live audiences. Day Day Cloud Time is a small studio talk show with a host chatting to celebrity guests on a big LED screen. Hey What’s Up is a reality show seeing celebrities live in quarantine via self-shot style vlogs.
New technologies and innovation allowed big big weekend entertainment shows, such as The Sound and Singer, to restart production and take the lead in “cloud production” industry trend, says Lester Hu, head of formats and international business.
“Shows for Q2 are scheduled for production from next month. We will continue to use extra protections, wearing masks and taking sanitising procedures so as to restrain risks. Live audiences won’t be involved until further notice,” Hu said.
China’s Bilibili reports limited impact of containment measures. In fact, the user generated content (UGC) service experienced higher usage during the first two months of the year. “During the coronavirus outbreak, people spent more time on the internet. We noticed that people paid more attention to and create more virus-related content between 18 Jan and 18 Feb this year. Users viewed virus-related videos 1.9 billion times; over 61,000 hours – or equivalent to seven years – of virus-related videos were created and 90% of it were live streaming,” a Bilibili spokesperson said.
Television Broadcasts Ltd (TVB) has also banned studio audiences, and says this year’s edition of the annual Miss Hong Kong Pageant, scheduled to run in summer, will be cancelled. Decisions on drama productions are fluid.
In a message released mid March after a joint industry meeting, the Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association (IMPPA) implemented a sweeping ban on the filming of entertainment shows from 19 March until the end of the month. The ban covers films, TV/streaming series, and all other entertainment formats.
The IMPPA says a decision on whether shoots should be re-started would be taken on 30 March “after considering the prevailing situation”.
The association says the unanimous decision to halt production followed the Indian government’s declaration of a medical emergency.
In the wake of this order, cinemas have been closed and sports/entertainment events postponed. This includes the delay of the multi-million dollar IPL cricket event until 15 April.
“We appreciate and support all the steps taken by the government of India to control the virus,” the statement says.
Meanwhile, the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) has told the industry in no uncertain terms that its 500,000 members needed to be protected.
Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL)’s head of flagship Hindi GEC Zee TV, Aparna Bhosle, says the company stops all shoots in the timelines stipulated in the directive.
“Keeping in mind the health and safety of all concerned, Zee will stop all shoots in the timelines stipulated in the directive. In times where social distancing is the need of the hour to curb the outbreak of Covid-19 and people are spending more time indoors, the idea is to provide audiences with the most engaging entertainment for the entire family. Talks are still on to arrive at a strategy that ensures viewers have the best content to look forward to in the said period,” says Bhosle.
Video streaming service MX Player says it has stalled the shoots of some of its ongoing and upcoming shows. In preparation for a slowdown in the weeks to come, MX Player says its library of content, which includes acquired programming, ensures a continuation flow of offering to its users. “We’ll have to wait and watch but we are hopeful to restart [production] in a couple of weeks,” says MX Player’s head of content acquisitions and partnerships, Mansi Shrivastav.
In Indonesia, Covid-19 containment measures are rolling out with a firm eye on the Muslim holy month of Ramadhan, which starts on 23 April. Ramadhan programming specials usually begin a month before, which is around now. Local media outfits say live audiences are being excluded.
Rajawali Televisi (RTV) CEO, Artine Utomo, says the station has stopped producing three titles that involve live audience: variety show Pesta Sahabat; and kids shows Dubi Dubi Dam and Fun Times. In place of the three shows, the station is airing library titles and animation reruns.
Pay-TV platform Telekomunikasi Indonesia, which manages six in-house channels, says all studio productions involving crowds have been put on hold. These include talk show with guest stars Happy Cozy, talk show with athletes Prime Sports Insight, pop music show Prime Music, dangdut music show Studio Dangdut and local Indie music show Indie Air, says senior manager programming for TV & video, Ferdinand Soritan.
Fremantle’s Jakarta-based Indonesia operation, which ended Indonesian Idol S10 in early March, says shows in pre-production phase are still ongoing. However, all new filming has been postponed until the end of May, says Fremantle Indonesia’s (PT Dunia Visitama Produksi) co managing director, Victor Ariesza.
Jakarta-based film and TV producer/distributor, 13 Entertainment, is still considering how best to shoot Furi Harun, a ghost-hunting YouTube series. “We may go ahead to shoot with minimum crew/cast,” says 13 Entertainment’s chief operating officer, Lavesh Samtani.
The decision to postpone the Tokyo Olympics to 2021 on 24 March ended weeks of speculation and anguish across Japan, with concerns about human safety ultimately trumping forecasts of catastrophic fallout.
Even ahead of the Olympics decision, commercial broadcaster Fuji Television was digesting the disruption of three major sports events – Tokyo Marathon 2020 (cancelled), World Figure Skating Championships 2020 (postponed), and the 2022 FIFA World Cup Asia Qualification (Japan vs Mongolia, postponed). In place of the Tokyo Marathon 2020 (originally scheduled for 1 Mar), Fuji TV reran library content; and the World Figure Skating Championship 2020 matches (19-22 Mar) were replaced with, among other titles, an infotainment live show on Covid-19, music live show and films. The 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualification match on 31 March will be replaced with a regular show.
Rival commercial broadcaster Nippon TV hasn’t halted production but says live and recorded shows are being filmed without studio audiences.
Hokkaido-based Sapporo Television Broadcasting outlines a similar approach, saying while all programmes are still in production, quiz shows that gather audiences outside the studio are paused. “Controlling the virus will take time, but we continue to create TV shows,” says Sapporo TV’s international sales team senior officer, Kazuhiro Kashima.
Asahi Production’s head of global business and acquisition, Satoji Yoshida, echoes Kashima’s sentiments. “To date, we are not halting any production and we proceed with caution. We’re waiting for the day the epidemic dies down,” Yoshida says.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK said a dedicated team had been set up in February to monitor coronavirus information for news and science programmes and specials, and that its flagship documentaries were being adapted in English for the NHK World Japan international channel. NHK also has a daily magazine show offering practical information for families to protect themselves from infection.
Outside of day-to-day programming and process adjustments, Nippon TV’s streaming subsidiary Hulu Japan, is offering free access to consumers across Japan until end of March. The offering entails over 100 shows, including drama series Your Turn to Kill, Mr. Hiiragi’s Homeroom and The Pride of the Temp, as well as entertainment shows Matsuko in the Room and Celebrity Confessions to Ariyosyi.
The biggest disruption so far has been to shows with live audiences.
Public broadcaster, KBS’s studio shows, including flagship K-pop TV show Music Bank, are going ahead minus their live audiences. At the same time, KBS stepped up information supply, adding scrolling text on screen and expanding news bulletins. “The aim is to bring accurate news report, not a fruitless competition for breaking news,” says KBS’ president and CEO, Yang Sung-dong.
Free-TV broadcaster MBC says production is continuing as scheduled, with the exception of shows with live audiences. This impacts weekly K-pop show, Music Core, and singing competition, King of Mask Singer, MBC’s global business director, Haewon Chin, says.
CJ ENM lists three studio shows that have lost their live audiences: music game show I Can See Your Voice S7, comedy series Comedy Big League (CBL) and K-pop chart show M Countdown. Travel reality Thrifters on Tour, which involves traveling abroad, has been paused. CJ ENM’s You Quiz on the Block season three, which involves interviews and interactions with people on the street, is now limited to filming indoors.
Korea’s Educational Broadcasting System (EBS) is also moving forward without live audiences, says executive producer, Gunny Hyoung. EBS has so far not delayed or cancelled any productions. However, the free-TV broadcaster predicts the airing of big game shows/event/reality are likely to be cancelled.
Malaysia’s domestic production community remains on high alert but no final decisions on production delays are being confirmed. Expectations are that the movement control order (MCO) implemented on 18 March will be lifted on schedule on 14 April, but contingency plans are being made in case the government does not revoke the order. If things go according to plan, regular activities will resume on 15 April.
The production unit of Malaysia’s largest terrestrial broadcaster, Primeworks Studios, says the pandemic response plan in place is “updated frequently” and that “there are measures being taken to ensure continued productivity”. No details were given.
Media Prima’s chief executive, Johan Ishak, says no production has been pulled as a result of Covid-19 containment measures, although live audiences have been cut. The current schedules, set six months ago, remain in place, with minor changes for news coverage and live Covid-19 updates. Back-up plans are in place should any of the scheduled shows not be able to meet transmission dates. Other recorded production activities suspended on 18 March are scheduled to resume on 15 April. “We do not foresee any issues as these productions will still be completed prior to planned transmission,” Ishak says.
A few hours drive away from Media Prima’s Kuala Lumpur-based HQ, management at Iskandar Malaysia Studios (IMS) suspended operations from 18 March-14 April in line with the government’s movement control order. Antony Tulloch, IMS general manager for studio operations and film services, says three active projects are in pre-production on the lot, and are committed to re-starting on 15 April as soon as the MCO is lifted. He says IMS is working with other producers to reschedule where required.
Myanmar’s free-TV digital station YTV, which has postponed all of its regular live shows and substituting it with library talk show programming, says “we will start again after Covid-19 outbreak situation is stable,” says chief executive officer Nang Htwe.
YTV, launched in Myanmar in Jan 2019, is managed by My Multimedia Group, which is a subsidiary of conglomerate Young Investment Group. The station’s offering include foreign movies, TV series, animation, religious series, game shows and talk shows.
The industry in the Philippines has taken the most extreme measures, shutting down TV and film production, filling prime-time schedules with library shows, rolling out relief measures for staff, and launching fund-raising campaigns for the worst-affected parts of the country. The shutdown came in stages, kicking off with the decision to close doors to live audiences in Manila in mid-March, followed by a halt to all production as broadcasters responded to the government’s emergency declarations, quarantine orders and curfews.
Broadcast giant ABS-CBN mined its rich library to help provide “inspiration, hope and fulfillment”, promising to resume regular programming “when conditions improve and the safety and welfare of our people will not be compromised”. In prime time, Pamilya Ko was replaced by 100 Days in Heaven; top-rated show, FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano was replaced by inspirational series, May Bukas Pa; Make it with You was replaced by On the Wings of Love; and streaming platform iWant’s original show, mystery thriller I Am U, took over from A Soldier’s Heart. At the same time, iWant upped the number of free titles offered on its platform while postponing the production of all its original series and movies “for the safety of everyone involved”.
Rival GMA Network has pretty much done the same, stopping drama production and pulling live audiences as well as calling a halt to studio tours and events. GMA dusted off long-running fantasy blockbuster, Encantadia, to run in place of Descendants of the Sun Philippines from Mondays to Fridays at 7pm. The second weeknight drama slot at 7.45pm is now filled with Heart and Soul in place of Hidden Liars, and the 8.30pm slot is now airing groundbreaking series My Husband’s Lover in place of Love of My Life. New episodes of long-running weekday variety show, Eat Bulaga, which was the first programme to be pulled, have been replaced by old episodes. The same is happening with All-Out Sundays.
Cignal TV has also halted production across free-to-air and pay-TV channels, with the exception of hourly news updates on news channel, One News, and is filling schedules with repeats of existing programmes. Live audiences are gone too, replaced by video chats with guests, says Vitto Lazatin, Cignal TV’s VP, content acquisition, management and strategy.
Philippines’ programmer Solar Entertainment Corp (SEC), which primarily aggregates content from the U.S. and U.K., is dealing with U.S. production shutdowns of shows including Ellen, ET Tonight and ET Weekend by replaying old episodes on its ETC and Jack TV channels. Some semblance of normality is expected to return from Monday, 30 March (the scheduled end of the Luzon lockdown), with the debut of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, which airs day and date with the U.S. In April, ETC adds Flirty Dancing U.K. season 2 and Gordon Ramsey 24 Hours to Hell and Back.
Solar Sports will continue to air day and date episodes of the latest season of Survivor every Thursday at 3pm and 8pm. But not all Solar’s sports issues are that easy to resolve. Fight Night Global and Bare Knuckle Boxing events, originally slated for April, are no longer taking place. “We are in close communication with our partners in the sports industry on how we will move forward with the changes in schedule, and the provision of alternative options,” the company told ContentAsia. Solar has put all its own domestic production projects on hold and says these will resume “once conditions improve”.
Broadcast leader Mediacorp is filming as normal, with precautionary measures such as temperature taking for cast and crew, and no live studio audiences, a spokesperson said.
mm2 Asia subsidiary, mm2 Entertainment, is pushing ahead with its projects slated for second half 2020. “We did not halt any productions and have just finished a telemovie slated for mid year release, says mm2 Entertainment’s chief content officer, Ng Say Yong.
This is the time to polish new scripts and create more ideas, says Ng, adding: “We have scripts on standby, so once the virus situation receives a clear to go, we will move forward with production immediately”.
Thailand’s TV companies remain on high alert and fully armed with sanitisation procedures – but have not been hit with full-on all-out disruption.
Broadcaster BEC World, which operates Channel 3, says it is constantly reviewing the situation but has not cancelled any shows. It did, however, pause when actor/host Matthew Dean (The Crown Princess) tested positive for the virus and was quarantined with the crew for two weeks.
Workpoint Group, which operates one of the country’s top free-to-air digital broadcast channels, says production is continuing for now, but is keeping a close eye on developments. “We are hoping we won’t reach that stage soon, but we are preparing for the worst,” a company spokesperson says.
Zense Entertainment, which produces game show Block Out for broadcaster Channel 7, says shows remain in production, with enhanced caution and safety measures, including smaller audiences and strict screening procedures. “We will evaluate week by week,” says foreign relations and format development manager, Sorayuth Sagrikananda.
Heliconia H Group’s chief commercial officer, Tatiya Sinhabaedya, also says strict measures have been put in place on set, including a medical team, to ensure safety and wellbeing.
Line TV Thailand’s chief content business officer, Kanop Supamanop says besides the regular health screening and set sanitisation, only crew members have access into the production location/area.
Taiwanese media execs point out the impact of quarantine measures on cross-border production. Line TV’s Taiwan-based biz development boss, Amo Chang, says overseas talent is in some cases being replaced with local actors in drama productions because of the 14-day quarantine requirement for travellers.
Jay Lin, the CEO of indie distributor Portico Media and founder of LGBTQ+ platform GagaOOlala, said the production of a gay music love stories omnibus that was to have launched in the weeks leading up to Taipei Pride from August to October has been delayed to 2021. “We are very cautious with productions these days since locations are sometimes hard to rent and people are fearful that productions already in progress will come to a complete stop if someone on the team contracts the coronavirus, or if the government makes certain regulations that will force productions to stop. So we are just playing it safe and carefully observing how things develop in these few months,” Lin says.
At Public Service Television (PTS), programme buyer Tian Fei says while no show have been cancelled, live audiences are no longer allowed.
Vietnam’s content production/distributor Vietba Media’s programme acquisition manager Truong Thanh Hang agrees. The plan is to minimise outdoor activities. “We will be ready to start again as soon as the situation permits,” Hang says.
Regional streaming platforms, many of which are knee-deep in original production initiatives, report mixed fortunes depending on where and what they are shooting.
PCCW Media’s Viu, which has an ambitious originals slate, is part of the community keeping a close watch on the situation.
“We have shows that are planned to go into production soon and we are closely monitoring the Covid-19 situation across our markets,” says Viu chief content officer, Virginia Lim.
“Our priority is to ensure the health and safety of all involved in the production, and keeping that in mind we are reassessing the production schedules. We are prepared to delay production if necessary and will have a great alternative line up to keep our viewers satisfied in case release dates of certain titles are affected,” Lim says.
Netflix has shuttered production in other parts of the world, but is not commenting on its production plans for Asia. The exception is India, where the platform was thought likely to adhere to a broad industry decision to halt production even before the government ordered a lockdown. The streamer’s highest-profile shows in Asia are being made in India and Korea.
Regional online video platform Viddsee says it has not halted or postponed confirmed productions this year, but that health and segregation procedures have been implemented. “We are monitoring the situation closely and will adjust our processes as it evolves,” says Derek Tan, co-founder of Viddsee.
INDIE PRODUCERS SAY...
Indie production houses are already reporting a devastating impact as projects are put on hold indefinitely.
“It’s affecting us very badly,” says BDA Creative’s director Paula Mason, who has operations in Singapore and the Philippines. She reports a slew of delayed projects as advertising agencies and broadcasters put campaigns on hold.
Anna Marie Magadia, CEO of Manila-based production house Atom & Anne Mediaworks, says since travel restrictions were imposed, pre-production plans have ground to a halt. “Obviously, there will be delays for the future projects we have on the pipeline, but we are dealing with the situation at a near day-to-day basis,” she says.
Malaysia’s Double Vision, which had already finished filming season two of The Bridge by the time authorities kicked into high containment gear, has as a result been spared the worst of the fallout from anti-virus measures. Head of production, Min Lim, says however that international projects are “in a holding pattern” for the moment.
Many are looking for alterntive ways to do business. Nafalia executive director, Farid Bin Khaleeque Ahmad, says while containment measures have made business “a bit difficult”, we are looking at working online and jobs that require little physical contact”.
Lina Tan, founder and chief content officer of Red Communications, has put filming of a second season of SMK for Astro Ceria on hold after the government directive to close schools. “Unfortunately we were shooting entirely in the school,” she says. Filming is likely to resume in April, pending school openings.
Another show with a live audience is likely to be reworked to remove the audience element. But, Tan says, no date has been set. “We still think it is too risky,” she says. Looking on the bright side, “we are going to use this time to develop some new concepts and shows as well as work on our online content,” Tan adds.
Published in ContentAsia's Issue One, 26 March 2020