How COVID-19 has impacted entertainment

The pandemic has changed what we’re watching

Entertainment is as vital a distraction as ever amidst a pandemic.

From the onset of the spread of COVID-19 into North America to now, there’s been a stark change in the way the entertainment industry operates. 

From film sets being shuttered within a matter of days to movie releases being forced to rely on streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime more heavily than ever, the entertainment industry has changed in previously unseen ways in the face of the coronavirus.

In mid-March, like many other students, I often found myself in my bed curled around the blue light of my computer screen streaming hours upon hours of content. Binging all of Tiger King within 48 hours of its release and watching all of Too Hot to Handle in one sitting became reprieve from the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Streaming habits have changed drastically since the beginning of the pandemic. As lockdowns swept across the United States, Netflix saw an increase of 16 million subscribers. The series Tiger King, released at the beginning of provincial shutdowns, is one of the most streamed series on Netflix. 

With the temporary closure of film and television production around the world, the pandemic presents the issue of having a finite amount of new creative projects available to be released. Though streaming platforms like Netflix continue to release content that had previously been scheduled to air before COVID-19 was classified as a global pandemic, the indefinite postponement of new and ongoing film productions posits the possibility of exhausting new content before reopened sets can catch up.

With new television becoming a resource that ought to be savoured, independent creators have stepped up this summer to produce content to fill the void created when sets closed in March. Similar to Netflix, YouTube and TikTok both saw an increase in viewership of 15.3 and 15.4 per cent, respectively.

Most people found themselves stuck at home this summer and, as a result, DIY videos have become increasingly popular on both platforms. Projects like whipped Dalgona iced coffee and tie-dyed apparel quickly became trending video topics early in the pandemic.

Daily quarantine vlogs outlining productivity while social distancing and working from home have become a staple for a niche of online creators. With the current absence of COVID-19 content in mainstream entertainment, the opportunity to see original reactions and coping mechanisms in the pandemic has a certain appeal to viewers.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of everyone on the globe, it remains to be seen whether mainstream entertainment will incorporate the events of the pandemic into new storylines. When scripts explicitly reference a certain cultural event in a film or series, the project runs the risk of becoming dated and not maintaining the relatively timeless feel—something directors will be grappling with for some time. 

One show that has committed to addressing the coronavirus directly is Grey’s Anatomy. Writers for Grey’s have said that Season 17 of the medical drama will confront the events of the coronavirus pandemic, and explore its impact on the doctors and nurses of Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital. 

While the explicit mention of major cultural events poses the risk of making a film seem dated, show writers are able to mitigate this risk by instead broaching some of the more specific horrors experienced at the behest of the pandemic. Massive death tolls, economic devastation, and major social isolation are themes that contribute to the quality of a storyline and are versatile enough to be used in a wide array of plotlines. Though screenwriters may elect not to directly mention the coronavirus pandemic in storylines, they may elect to refer to these larger themes to build a story around.

With sets reopening and production resuming, we’re not far out from discovering how the coronavirus will continue to shape our entertainment landscape. The pandemic isn’t over, and maintaining responsible pandemic practices means there’s still hours of television and movies to binge


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