Production houses keep their faith as they weigh impact of COVID-19

Companies could see more than 15 per cent of their annual revenues being wiped out.

MUMBAI: The iconic ‘Lights, camera, action’ has temporarily been silenced across the country. The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on the once-thriving media and entertainment industry, stymieing its smooth functioning, at least for the time being. The silver lining, however, is that despite the global impact of the pandemic, production houses are hopeful of a brighter future. Industry experts are hoping that the short-term pain will be a long-term gain. While some feel that the nation will soon be back on its feet, others are thankful for the much-needed break for creative people. reached out to a cross section of players in the industry for reaction.

The Film and Television Producers Guild of India CEO Kulmeet Makkar believes it is too early to predict the overall impact. It completely depends on how long this lockdown continues. “Everything is shut. How soon will theatres open is a huge question mark. Even if the essential commodities are made available, will cinema halls open for the public, considering the social distancing norm? Given all this, everyone except news channels is facing a huge setback,” he says.

Production houses that had rented sets for their upcoming shoots had to hurriedly halt things. Indian Film and TV Producers Council director Shyamashis Bhattacharya says, “We are talking to all the studio owners both at an individual level as well from IFTPC that the rent of such studios should be waived off for the period where there has been no work. Film City, where the industry has the maximum number of sets, is controlled by the Maharashtra government; we are trying to reach out to them as well on this matter. I am sure they will take an empathetic view of our concern. For sets where the producer may not get any waiver on the rent, I am sure the broadcaster of that show will pitch in and help the producer.”

Hats Off Productions co-founder Aatish Kapadia says that it is more important to look after the lives of daily wage earners and people who are in trouble because of work shortage than to worry about the rent.

Unemployment and job cuts will be a grim reality that will hit the industry soon. Bhattacharya says: “Sacking of people would be an individual choice of every producer and that will depend on how long the lockdown continues. I don’t think anyone will like to sack people if they are able to manage financially.”

Even though no jobs have been taken away yet, Makkar questions whether production houses can sustain those losses for long if the lockdown continues. For now, the focus is on the daily wage earners, the most hard-hit by the COVID-19.

Playing their part to help fellow humans, industry biggies have come forward with a heart of gold.

Red Chillies’ Shah Rukh Khan is making available his office for quarantine facilities. Balaji Telefilms’ Ekta Kapoor will donate her annual salary of Rs 2.5 crore towards helping daily wage earners and freelancers. The Yash Chopra Foundation will look after 3000 daily wage earners from the industry. The foundation will also transfer Rs 5000 to their individual bank accounts. 

Meanwhile, streaming giant Netflix has contributed $1 million to the relief fund set up by Producers Guild of India. Sony Pictures Networks India will donate Rs 100 million. Zee Entertainment has also committed to help 5000+ daily wage earners who are working directly or indirectly in its overall production ecosystem.

However, the question looming large is the sustainability for producers and broadcasters when revenue doesn’t kick in for a few months. Experts suggest that if the crisis continues, every stakeholder will see more than 15 per cent of the total yearly revenue being wiped out.  Although the initial support has been phenomenal, the government needs to step in soon. Even if the lockdown is lifted on 14 April, it will take time for things to get back to normal.  Every single month of inactivity would mean losing 10 per cent of the business.

In the meanwhile, some parts of the production chain are still being oiled. A few production houses are doing background work to promote their shows on digital platforms. “We are doing a lot of collaborative work on Zoom calls and other Microsoft applications. The work is in progress with several channels. I am writing scripts for a web series and a film. Khichdi and Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai are back on television and to promote the shows every team is resorting to video conferencing. We are doing a lot of shoots on social distancing through our individual social media handles,” says Kapadia.

Bhattacharya says that the scripting for some shows is being conducted via email exchanges. These are shows that were commissioned before the lockdown but couldn’t get started with the shoots. “As far as absolutely new ideas are concerned, I think the broadcasters will listen to them only when the situation normalises to some extent,” he says.

Nonetheless, heads from the entertainment and media industry are hopeful that things would be better once the lockdown is lifted and the government plays its part in helping the stakeholders in the industry. But the industry will feel the pinch for the months to come.

Let’s earnestly hope that the industry will emerge unscathed from this unprecedented and hard situation. 

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