When the pandemic began, predictions that remote work would last for two years or more were met with disbelief. The entertainment industry in particular saw remote work requirements as a major setback. If actors couldn’t work on set and artists couldn’t perform live, how would the entertainment industry survive?
Film, performing arts, and video games adapted to the new normal the same way that the rest of us did. How exactly? By adapting their industries to a remote workforce. The impact of remote work policies on the entertainment industry will likely shape media for years to come.
How did COVID-19 affect the entertainment industry?
COVID-19 changed the entertainment landscape, bolstering streaming services while having a negative impact on cinema and theatre. Anything that could keep people entertained while sheltering in place became extremely popular. Digital media revenue increased by 31% in 2020 and ad revenue from social, search, and video media continues to climb as we enter 2022.
Over the past two years of remote work the entertainment industry has wholeheartedly embraced an adapt-or-die attitude towards COVID-19. Unfortunately, not all sectors of the industry can easily implement a remote work policy. Cirque du Soleil, a live performance company, and the Marvel Universe, a major motion picture franchise, both saw a revenue decline at the start of the pandemic and made attempts to adapt their business model to the new normal.
Case example: Cirque du Soleil
The performing arts industry faced the greatest decline in revenue at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cirque du Soleil, a company whose primary source of revenue comes from live shows staffed by hundreds of skilled performers. When the pandemic closed down venues indefinitely in 2020, they didn’t have other choice than to lay off 95% of their workforce. They retained their fans by posting prerecorded live performances on YouTube and even tried their hand at establishing a streaming service.
However, Cirque du Soleil is currently controlled by its creditors and does not appear to be making significant returns on its digitization ventures. As a live performance company, options for and expertise in digital media became limited when the pandemic began. Their recovery may depend on how quickly their employees can return to the touring circuit.
Case example: The Marvel Cinematic Universe
Operating revenue in the Canadian motion picture industry decreased by 12.2% in 2020. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) observed a similar dip in box office revenue for the first three movies released during the pandemic. However, their form of media is uniquely suited to pairing with popular digital streaming services. The MCU did not hesitate to release content online as well as in theatres.
Rentals of Black Widow on the Disney+ streaming service grossed $60 million. Much of this revenue goes right back to the streaming service. Marvel does earn some profit on the stream, and perhaps more importantly, they kept franchise fans engaged. Spider Man: No Way Home grossed over a billion dollars at box offices worldwide after its release on December 17, 2021. It is unclear whether the anemic box office numbers on the three movies released before Spider Man will have a lasting impact on the franchise.
How did the entertainment industry adapt to remote work?
Hard-hit sectors like the performing arts and motion pictures primarily adapted themselves to the pandemic. Some, by pairing with streaming services. While some other by going into debt until their previous business models could be implemented again. Animation, video games, and audio media, on the other hand, found themselves at an advantage. Existing virtual desktop infrastructure offered a proven, secure platform for remote work. Animators and video game programmers embraced the challenge of entertaining a newly sheltering in place clientele while staying at home themselves.
New trends in the production industry.
By 2020, animators had already been working remotely for years. Most animation companies had a remote work policy and adequate cyber security in place when stay-at-home orders were issued. Mario Positano, program coordinator for Sheridan College’s Honours Bachelor of Animation program, notes that his graduates are being overwhelmed with requests for work. There simply are not enough animators in the job market to support the growing number of studios that are thriving in the pandemic economy.
New trends in gaming.
Virtual reality and augmented reality games were in development before 2020. It was only once people were looking to enhance their at-home gaming experiences as they sheltered in place, the VR/AR sectors truly took off. Games made for Facebook’s Oculus Quest and Quest 2 have grossed $1 million since 2020, with the headsets themselves bringing in a revenue of over a billion dollars.
Traditional video games have also seen a major uptick in consumption due to the pandemic. By July 18, 2021, spending on video games had increased by 65% from June 2019. It looks like the benefits of working remotely include greater interest in video games, both now and into the future. That is, if video game designers also working from home can keep generating novel content for eager new gamers.
The meaning of working remotely for today’s entertainers
Entertainers who derive their livelihood from in-person performances have suffered from the pandemic. Those who can capitalize on streaming services or digital media, like animators and video game designers, are seeing unprecedented growth.
As restrictions lift, consumers of entertainment are beginning to return to theatres and to seek out live performances. This is good news for sectors that have had mixed results with adapting to remote work policy, like motion pictures and circus acts. For Cirque du Soleil, the ability to go on tour can catapult them out of the red.
For the animation and gaming industries, sustaining consumer interest and preserving the competitive edge from pandemic-driven purchases is the primary challenge going forward.
Hypertec invested heavily in media and entertainment companies that demonstrated a flexible and robust strategy for meeting the challenges of COVID-19. With our expertise in IT infrastructure, we can offer support for creating top-notch entertainment for and by a remote workforce.