Will the show go on? Broadcasters stare at disruption in GEC programming due to shoot ban

Entertainment channels are facing the prospect of airing re-runs once the bank of fresh episodes dries up

e4m by Sonam Saini & Javed Farooqui
Updated: Apr 16, 2021 8:23 AM
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The TV broadcasting sector is bracing for another round of disruption in entertainment programming with the Maharashtra government closing down shootings of films/serials/ads as part of strict measures to contain the rising Covid-19 cases in the state.

The broadcasters were hit hard in 2020 when the country went through a strict national lockdown. For months, GECs had to air re-runs of existing and old shows even as the TV viewership reached stratospheric heights. Even after the government started easing restrictions, GEC programming took some time to return to normalcy.

Mumbai is the hub of all TV production activities with almost all the leading Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs) and production houses based here. Therefore, the restrictions placed by the Maharashtra government on shootings will have a huge impact on the industry.

Entertainment channels are facing the prospect of airing re-runs once the bank of fresh episodes dries up.

"It is obvious that the ban on shooting will have an adverse impact on the GECs. Any channel would have a maximum of one week's fresh episodes in the bank. We had an inkling that the Maharashtra government might go in for a lockdown, therefore, some channels might have shot a lot more episodes. But even these channels will have a maximum of 8-9 days of content in the bank. But not beyond that. The shooting has stopped from Thursday so most channels will have fresh content till next Wednesday-Thursday. In the absence of fresh content, broadcasters will have to re-run content. Now it's up to the individual broadcasters to tackle the situation," said a senior production executive with a leading TV network.

"Shooting outside the state is an option but it is not possible to move overnight considering the logistics involved. The locations will also depend on the storylines of the shows. Non-fiction shows will not have a problem as they can be shot a lot in one go. Also, non-fiction shows air only twice during the week. If the restrictions are in place for only 15 days then it's manageable, however, if it lasts more than that then the broadcasters are in for serious trouble. In such a scenario, we will have to speak to the government and come up with a solution," the executive added.

In order to ensure a continued supply of fresh programming, many broadcasters and production houses are planning to move TV shoots out of Mumbai. There are some Hindi GECs that are planning to shoot their shows in Goa and Hyderabad's Ramoji Film City. According to a source, a leading production house has already shifted its base to Goa for both its films and TV shows. TV channels and production houses are said to be exploring locations like Jaipur, Agra, Punjab, and Goa for shooting their TV shows.

“Individual producers and broadcaster can decide if they wish to shoot outside Mumbai as there are no restrictions on that. Currently, everything is in the discussion phase, we are hoping that by tomorrow or Saturday, we will be able to finalise how we are taking this forward. But yes we are considering the option of shooting outside the state,” said a content executive of a leading Hindi GEC. “It's really important for the broadcasters to keep original programming going, hence trying alternatives is the need of an hour.”

“We already have a bank of episodes for most of our shows, hence we are not worried about them. But for the shows where we don’t have a bank, we are planning to move them out of Maharashtra for the shoot. There are other places in the country that are shoot-friendly which can be explored,” said a senior executive from a Hindi GEC.

“In terms of budget, definitely there is going to be an escalation, but that has to be in control. The broadcasters might have to pay 10-15% more on the budgets. Also, if broadcasters are getting good deals on other locations, they will continue shoots there even after the situation gets better,” she explained.

On April 14, the coordination committee of the M&E Industry, comprising film bodies like IFTPC, CINTAA, and FWICE, wrote to Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackrey, pledging support for the 15-day lockdown imposed in the state. In the letter, the committee also made certain requests, which includes a financial package for M&E workers and the arrangement of vaccination centres at Film City. Apart from these, the letter also mentions allowing post-production work and the ongoing construction work of certain sets.

While extending support towards the 15-day lockdown, the committee also promised to submit a detailed operational plan for the industry in the coming days in case the government decides to extend the present lockdown.

IFTPC Chairman JD Majethia said that they have written a letter to the Maharashtra government seeking support for the industry. "We want CM to consider the industry as a frontline service to entertain people and help them stay at home. “Since the working conditions and format is akin to the news channel, we shall also be treated on par as an essential service,” wrote the industry body in the letter.

Giving a studio's perspective on the impact of the ban on shootings, Zee Studio’s Chief Business Officer Shariq Patel said, "There will be an impact but at the end of the day we will have to follow rules. Having said that, there were cases on every set so shooting has been difficult for the last 15-30 days. We were shooting for a film called Rocket Gang being directed by Bosco Martis and members of the team tested positive for Covid. We had to stop shoot for a week and it was the primary star cast so we had to wait it out.”

“Shooting in Covid is a problem despite taking all the precautions. From the last lockdown till now, we have worked on 10 movies, and all of them have been shot pretty much incident-free barring one-off cases. But now shootings are getting impacted. The industry has been hit hard for the last 12 months and if the lockdown is extended, it will continue to hit us," Patel added.

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