The coronavirus outbreak has left much of the television workforce idle, with most TV production suspended since March. Freelancers, who account for 100,000 of the total TV and film workforce of 180,000, have been dealt the rawest of deals. They have been hit hardest by the lockdown – 93% are out of work, according to The Film and TV Charity.
Unprecedented times demand creative thinking. An RTS webinar heard that shows as different as ITV’s Coronation Street, the BBC’s Top Gear and Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch have all learnt how to adapt their production routines to keep cast and crew safe in the age of Covid-19.
It’s the end of an era. The country is slowly easing out of lockdown. Against the odds, we’ve delivered a show to the BBC and become surprising best mates with the Bank of England, and I’m leaving the Beano for new adventures.
Our brilliant Beano team adapted to lockdown at lightning speed, despite some becoming quite poorly with Covid-19 symptoms. We mobilised everyone to work from home early and we’ve kept all content production across TV, digital and the comic on track. Endless innovation, creativity and cheer has shone through.
“The [TV] industry genuinely is changing for the better, but we are where we are because lots of people have talked about stuff and not enough people have done anything,” added the CEO of Plimsoll Productions.
“We’re trying to appeal to broad audiences. How on earth can we do that if it’s all being seen through the prism of a bunch of middle-class white people? They should be part of the group, not the whole bloody group.”
Mansfield was part of a panel assembled for an RTS West of England webinar in late June discussing the health of the region’s TV production.
Another week, another huge challenge for BBC News, as it strives to navigate a path between its commitment to impartiality, the clear moral cause behind the movement, and covering the protests in all their complexity.
"Our reporting of the protests at the weekend made it quite clear that the day in London ended in some violence. What weight do you give that? It’s down to editorial judgement on the day," explained Fran Unsworth, in conversation with Stewart Purvis for the RTS.
Nearly nine in every 10 people working in the sector have experienced mental health problems, according to research from The Film and TV Charity, which co-hosted the online event in early June.
“That is significantly higher than the UK population as a whole, where the figure is 65%,” said Alex Pumfrey, CEO of the charity. “There is a much higher prevalence of mental health problems for people working within film and television.”
She added: “More than half of people working in the industry have considered taking their own life.”
Anna Mallett, CEO of ITN for the past 12 months, could be forgiven for looking a little wearied. Even before coronavirus struck, the news organisation was working full tilt, covering such seismic events as Brexit, the Conservative Party leadership contest and a particularly fractious pre-Christmas general election. And now this.
Independent producers are the most vulnerable to the economic carnage unleashed on the television sector by coronavirus. That was the consensus of a lively RTS webinar examining the impact of Covd-19 on the UK’s TV and related content industries. However, despite this worrying situation, there was agreement that all the British broadcasters would survive the downturn.
Lockdown begins five weeks early for me. Not due to Covid-19 but because, on 18 February, I become a dad. Welcome, Roscoe. I plan to avoid looking at email for the first month.
Three weeks later, on 11 March, I give in. Louisa Compton, editor of Channel 4’s Dispatches, wants quick ideas on coronavirus. I send her a barmy notion about shooting a film in one day, editing it in a week, and broadcasting seven days after filming.
“People are spending much longer in front of TV sets,” Justin Sampson, CEO of ratings body Barb, told an RTS Zoom event in early June.
During the first nine weeks of the lockdown, people spent an average of 5 hours 7 minutes in front of the box, 33% more than during the equivalent period in 2019. These are “the kind of levels you’d normally see at Christmas”, said Sampson.
Viewing of Barb-reported channels – which doesn’t include unidentified viewing: the SVoDs such as Netflix; gaming; YouTube; or overseas satellite channels – has risen by 18%.