The Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak, which was first identified in China in December, has had sweeping effects in the public health, business, and travel sectors, among others. And while the repercussions for the entertainment industry may seem to pale in comparison to the clear threat the virus poses to human life, the ripple effects do have implications for the people around the world who make a living producing and distributing movies, music, and more.
The immense and lucrative Chinese film industry was almost immediately hit as movie theaters across the country were closed and major releases were delayed. Hollywood soon began to feel the effects too, and as time passes, the impact of the coronavirus on the global film and entertainment industries will certainly grow.
Consequences of the outbreak on these industries could range from lowered attendance at film festivals and disruptions in film distribution, to delayed or canceled movie releases and concert dates, to curtailed on-location film shoots. Financial ramifications will likely be felt by studios, filmmakers, theater owners, and more for months, or even years.
Here are the biggest and most significant developments in the entertainment industry in response to the outbreak. Most recently, several movies (including the upcoming James Bond movie No Time to Die and Peter Rabbit 2) have been delayed, and major cultural events have been postponed or canceled, including SXSW and Coachella.
Major entertainment festival cancellations and postponements
- K-pop concerts canceled, including BTS shows: On February 28, the hugely popular K-pop group BTS canceled a series of planned concerts in Seoul. The shows were scheduled for April 11 and 12 and April 18 and 19 at Seoul’s Olympic Stadium. The group’s management agency said that the decision was made due to the impossibility of predicting the scale of the outbreak in South Korea come April and cited the health and safety of the musicians themselves, workers, and concertgoers. Two hundred thousand fans were expected to attend.
Days earlier, BTS had asked fans to avoid a series of TV appearances scheduled to promote their newest album, Map Of The Soul: 7, which had originally been planned to include studio audiences. The group also appealed to fans via a streamed press conference. “Health is always on our minds these days, and our messages of facing your inner self and loving yourself are ultimately only possible when you’re healthy, especially since it is very risky outside these days,” one of the singers, Jimin, said. ”I hope you take care of yourself.”
The entire Korean entertainment sector has been affected by the outbreak, and K-pop has been hit particularly hard, with groups including GOT7, WINNER, Sechs Kies, (G) I-DLE, and others canceling scheduled tour dates. Variety reported that box office revenue in South Korea was down 30-40 percent in January 2020 compared to previous years.
- SXSW canceled: On March 6, the city of Austin declared a state of disaster, requiring the cancellation of public gatherings and events for the near future. The most notable of those is the cancellation of South by Southwest, the annual music, film, TV, and technology festival that serves as a significant financial powerhouse for the city.
The announcement came after a week full of major companies — including Netflix, Apple, Amazon, WarnerMedia, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Mashable, Intel, and more — dropping out of the well-attended event, canceling panels, premieres, and other appearances. Days later, SXSW organizers announced that they had laid off one-third of the festival’s employees in what they called “a necessary, but heartbreaking, step.”
- Emerald City Comic Con delayed: The organizing body behind Emerald City Comic Con, the largest convention of its kind in Seattle, Washington, announced on March 6 that it will postpone the event until sometime this summer. The event was to run March 12-16.
“We did everything that we could to run the event as planned, but ultimately, we are following the guidance of the local public health officials indicating that conventions should now be postponed,” convention organizers Reedpop said in a statement published on the Emerald City Comic Con website.
- Cannes Film Festival remains in question: The 2020 edition of the Cannes Film Festival, arguably the most prestigious film festival in the world, is still in question following the French government’s ban on gatherings of more than 1,000 people through at least the end of May. (The festival is slated to take place May 12-23 and draws thousands of industries and press from around the globe each year.) The Festival issued a statement on February 28 after the first case of coronavirus in nearby Nice, France, was confirmed by the city’s mayor, saying that organizers were monitoring the situation but planned for the festival to go forward. (Cannes is a seaside resort town located on the French Riviera, about 30 km from Nice.)
Variety reported on March 10 that the festival’s organizers had previously elected not to carry a buy-back option on its insurance, meaning that if the event is canceled, the festival will not be able to rely on an insurance claim to recoup its costs. Meanwhile, on March 10, the UK sales outfit GFM became the first film industry company to confirm that it would not be traveling to Cannes in May.
- Coachella delayed: Goldenvoice, the organizers of Coachella, one of the largest annual music festivals in the US, announced on March 10 that the festival would be postponed due to concerns about the outbreak. Another Goldenvoice festival, the country music-oriented Stagecoach, has also been postponed.
The Indio, California-based event was originally set to run for two weekends, April 10-12 and April 17-19, with the same talent lineups performing both weekends. It will now run October 9-11 and October 16-18. Stagecoach 2020 has been pushed back from April to October 23-25.
Major film release dates postponed or canceled
- Chinese movies scrapped theatrical release and premiere online: The biggest films of China’s year are usually scheduled to release during the Lunar New Year holiday, near the end of January, but mounting fears of the coronavirus and public reticence to be in crowded spaces caused distributors to voluntarily cancel or postpone several film releases. Huanxi, distributor of the Chinese blockbuster Lost in Russia, announced on January 22 that the film would premiere online for free. Promotional materials encouraged audiences to “stay safely at home and watch Lost in Russia with your mom.” On January 31, Enter the Fat Dragon became the second major Chinese film to premiere online, as theaters are closed by order of the government.
- Mulan Chinese release delayed: Disney’s live-action version of Mulan was set for worldwide release on March 27, but on February 4, Disney’s (now-outgoing) CEO Bob Iger confirmed to CNBC that the film was unlikely to be released in China that day since theaters remain closed by order of the government. The movie — which is set in China, stars Chinese American actress Liu Yifei, and features Chinese superstars like Gong Li, Jet Li, and Donnie Yen — was expected to rake in substantial revenue at the Chinese box office. It’s unclear when the film will be released in China. Other high-profile American releases, such as Oscar Best Picture nominees Jojo Rabbit and 1917, also saw their planned Chinese February release dates canceled.
- No Time to Die: On February 16, MGM announced that it would cancel the Chinese premiere and publicity tour planned for the new James Bond movie, No Time To Die, which was scheduled for April. On March 4, the studio announced that it had delayed the film’s release until late November, making the film the first major tentpole release to be delayed worldwide.
- Sonic the Hedgehog: On February 24, Paramount Pictures announced that it would delay the release of Sonic the Hedgehog in China, with a new release date to be determined.
- Peter Rabbit 2: On March 10, Sony announced that it would push the global release of Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway from late March/early April to August.
Film and TV productions halted, altered, or shut down
- Jia Zhangke project delayed: At the Berlin Film Festival in February, famed Chinese director Jia Zhangke (Ash Is Purest White, A Touch of Sin) told Indiewire that production on his new film, which was slated to begin in April, was delayed indefinitely. Jia spoke with Indiewire at the Berlin Film Festival, where his documentary Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue premiered. But he said that before he left, he’d feared his flight to Berlin would be canceled, and that some of his collaborators chose not to make the trip. Regarding his next film, he said:
For some film companies and studios involved in pre-production, a lot of costs are going down the drain, and those that already started production have to be somehow cut short or suspended. Some of them are already in the process of distributing films and they’ve paid for a lot of promotion and PR costs. The economy is now taking a huge hit, and I think the investment side will be hugely impacted as well.”
- Mission: Impossible production paused: On February 26, Paramount Pictures announced that it had halted a planned three-week shoot in Venice for the seventh installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise. “Out of an abundance of caution for the safety and well-being of our cast and crew, and efforts of the local Venetian government to halt public gatherings in response to the threat of coronavirus, we are altering the production plan for our three-week shoot in Venice, the scheduled first leg of an extensive production for Mission: Impossible 7,” a Paramount spokesperson told the Hollywood Reporter. “During this hiatus we want to be mindful of the concerns of the crew and are allowing them to return home until production starts. We will continue to monitor this situation, and work alongside health and government officials as it evolves.”
- The Amazing Race production halted: On February 28, CBS had only filmed three episodes of the reality show The Amazing Race’s 33rd season, located in the UK, when the network announced that the show would be suspending production until further notice. “Due to increased concerns and uncertainty regarding the coronavirus around the world, CBS and the producers of The Amazing Race have taken the precautionary measure of temporarily suspending production on the 33rd season of the series,” the network said in a statement. “All contestants and production staff are in the process of returning home.”
- Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune tape without a studio audience: Though Sony declined to comment, sources told the Hollywood Reporter on March 9 that scheduled tapings of the shows would go forward without a live studio audience. The measure was taken partly as a precaution for the health of Jeopardy host Alex Trebek, who is fighting stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
Entertainment venues and attractions shut down
- Chinese movie theaters shut down: Hoping to contain the coronavirus outbreak, on January 23 the Chinese government decided to temporarily shut down movie theaters throughout the country until further notice. A total film production shutdown soon followed. Loss of revenue over the Lunar New Year holiday in late January, during which movie theaters typically see an uptick in ticket sales, amounted to a staggering $1 billion, according to analysts.
- Chinese cultural attractions closed: Other cultural attractions and institutions in China that have been closed to the public include Tiananmen Square’s National Museum of China, the Forbidden City, and a section of the Great Wall of China located near Beijing.
- Shanghai and Hong Kong Disneyland parks shut down: On January 25, Disney shut down its Shanghai Disneyland park over fears of the coronavirus. The park is a major revenue generator, with 11.8 million guests in 2018, 50 percent from outside the Shanghai region, and an estimated $1 billion in annual revenue and $50 million in operating profit. A day after Shanghai Disneyland’s closure, Hong Kong Disneyland shut down.
- Italian cultural sites closed: In February, a number of major museums in Venice, Milan, Turin, and other northern Italian cities were closed as part of the government’s aggressive attempt to contain the virus, and annual Carnivale celebrations stopped early. By early March, with the country under complete lockdown, cultural sites across Italy were closed, including the Colosseum and Pompeii.
We will continue to update this article as the story develops.