COVID-19 Hangover: 60% of Scripted Releases at Risk of Delay

Audiences and the industry can expect disruption to the supply and release of new content for more than a year as a result of production delays caused by COVID-19, according to a new report by Ampere Analysis.

The report finds 60% of scripted releases at risk of delay and a further 5% to 10% that may be lost entirely.

“Our analysis indicates that the unscripted market will more easily weather the current pandemic thanks to the production of non-location-based, and COVID-related, content,” according to Ampere. “However, the delay of summer ‘blockbusters’ like ‘The Bachelorette’ and ‘Love Island’ will have a negative impact on even the unscripted sector. We predict the scripted sector will take a far bigger hit: even if production is able to restart in June, underlying effects of the shutdown will be felt in the scripted TV market for the remainder of 2020, and well into 2021.”

In the second half of 2020, Ampere expects that the world’s top TV commissioners will release between 5% to 10% fewer new scripted titles on a monthly basis than previously predicted. The effect will last into the first half of 2021, and potentially longer.

Over half of scripted titles which would normally have released in the second half of 2020 are at risk of delays in release schedules due to the current production hiatus. Titles scheduled for release from June to August are likely to largely be in post-production, and Ampere expects delays will be more limited for this period.

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The number of scripted TV titles at risk of delay remains high for a year, with impact particularly intense at the traditional start of the broadcast season in the autumn. At this point, between 50% and 60% of scripted titles that would normally have been released in the period are at risk of delay by Ampere’s estimates. A further 5% to 10% of scripted titles expected to have been released during the autumn months are likely be lost entirely due to the current production shutdown, Ampere predicts. The proportion of scripted releases unaffected by the shutdown only rises above 40% in March 2021.

Compared to 2019, only 51% of scripted projects ordered during March through May 2019 have been released to date. With commissioning of scripted content down by 40% in the equivalent period of 2020, Ampere predicts the current lack of commissions will impact the supply of content well into 2021.

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“There is one certainty among the current uncertainty — that the COVID-19 pandemic will change the TV production industry far beyond the end of the lockdown,” Ampere senior analyst Fred Black said in a statement. “Initially, we expect delays to cause gaps in scripted TV release schedules, which broadcasters and streaming players will have to fill with other content. However, as delayed productions begin to fill out content gaps in later months, these gaps will begin to close. But this has further ramifications. The knock-on effect of delayed releases is a likely depression of the number of new commissions for some time after the shutdown ends, as commissioners look to fill schedules with delayed projects they have already invested in before signing off new ones.”

Unscripted content is set to bounce back quicker, according to Ampere. While a number of unscripted commissions expected over Q2 and Q3 2020 will be delayed, Ampere predicts release schedules will begin to return to normal by the autumn, with the percentage of titles unaffected rising to 71% by October. The biggest misses in the unscripted space are likely to be returning summer series that cannot go into production, such as reality stalwarts ‘Love Island’ and ‘The Bachelorette.’ Unscripted commissions have actually increased in comparison to the same period last year, partly to fill schedule gaps left by delayed or cancelled scripted series. However, a large proportion of these titles have been COVID-19-specific commissions. If this content is excluded, unscripted commissions have been down 27% since the beginning of March. Unlike scripted content, commissioners can typically order enough adapted unscripted content during lockdown to cover normal numbers of new unscripted releases, as well as help cover schedule gaps from delayed or cancelled scripted content.

Commissioners are currently creating a large number of extra unscripted projects which can be used to cover gaps in the schedule left by delayed titles or the missed scripted commissions,” said Black in a statement. “This number of extra commissions will begin to wane as the shutdown ends, with audience appetite for COVID-19-specific content already showing signs of falling.”

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