Anirban Roy Choudhury

Filming in Maharashtra shut till May 1; Broadcasters might have to air reruns again

The Government of Maharashtra imposed restrictions on shooting for films, TV shows, advertisements

Last year, after taking over as the chairman of FICCI's Media and Entertainment Committee, Sanjay Gupta who is also the country manager and vice president of Google, said the media and entertainment sector, directly and indirectly, employs close to five million people. That is how huge the industry is. Most of it is dependent on Mumbai for both employment and software.

The industry was heavily hit by the COVID-induced lockdowns in 2020. Shooting for films, television shows, and advertisements were banned in March and were only allowed in late June. The broadcasters ran out of fresh content and had to rerun programmes from their archives. That forced the advertisers to disengage with the broadcasters - while some did not renew their deals, others suspended associations after invoking the force majeure clause.

It is Déjà vu for the industry as filming will remain shut once again for at least 15 days starting tomorrow (April 15, 2021) in Maharashtra. The state government, to curb the astronomical rise in COVID cases, has imposed a new set of restrictions. One of them is to shut shooting for films, television shows, and advertisements.

As many as 100 shows (Hindi+ Gujarati + Marathi) are shot in various parts of Mumbai and its outskirts. For the next 14 days, i.e at least till May 1, there won't be any lights, camera, or action. It is another lockdown. After the restrictions were announced by the Government of Maharashtra, panic calls started between stakeholders.

A programming executive in a top General Entertainment Channel said that the fiction shows will burn out this week itself. "We are staring at another week of reruns at least," says the executive.

In Indian television, fiction shows are shot daily. What's shot today will air tomorrow or at best the day after. Due to the ongoing Indian Premier League, no marquee non-fiction shows - Bigg Boss, Kaun Banega Crorepati and the like are on air. "Non-fiction shows are a weekly affair, so, if the lockdown is lifted on May 1, those won't suffer much," adds the programming executive.

According to industry estimates, the likes of Star, Zee, Colors, Sony, and other broadcasters spend around Rs 15,000 crore per year on shows. A large part of their monetisation is dependent on advertising. The advertisers do not pay the same ad rates for reruns though they fetch the same or more eyeballs as fresh episodes if not more.

A media planning expert, on condition of anonymity, says if the broadcasters are airing reruns for only a week or 10 days, then it won't have an impact on ad spends. Beyond that, according to the expert, "They will have to have fresh discussions and negotiations."

The organisations and associations that represent the producers and workers are still hopeful that they can find a solution through dialogues with the chief minister and other members of the government. JD Majethia, Chairman, TV & Wing, IFTPC  said that the association will approach the CM to discuss if the industry can find a way to work. "I've always believed that the industry people are also frontline warriors given we generate employment and also entertain the mass."  

Many producers said it is "unfair" that filming sporting events or news is allowed but movies and shows are not. FWICE president B N Tiwari also said that they will be approaching the government as they firmly believe "filming was not causing the spike." "We have been following all protocols and if necessary, we will maintain stricter rules. We are open to suggestions and rules, however, work needs to continue," he opines.

As of now, the 15-day-lockdown is simply a bump in the road to recovery for the television industry. If it gets extended, the broadcasters will have to relive the stress of 2020.

"The advantage is that we have done this once and so, this time, we feel we are more prepared. However, it is sad that we still don't have a bank of episodes and we continue to be deeply dependent on one particular state. The technological developments that we thought COVID will force, have actually died in webinars..." opines another senior executive at a TV channel.  

Last year, Sanjay Gupta's assessment was in 2020, we will see the sector shrink from $20 billion to $15 billion. The bigger challenge, according to him was the impact on jobs and the livelihood of those impacted. "As we find ways to adapt to this new normal, it is estimated that around 15% to 20% of our workforce may lose their jobs, potentially impacting nearly a million people," he had said. That's what is at stake!

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