Picture: 123RF/JAKKAPAN JABJAINAI
Picture: 123RF/JAKKAPAN JABJAINAI

Prepare for lots of fake applause, canned laughter and repeats.

As coronavirus halts major live events and TV productions across Europe, broadcasters are struggling to keep their schedules full and entertaining for people now stuck at home.

It’s requiring some ingenuity and sleights of hand: in Germany, broadcaster ProSiebenSat. 1 Media is airing live hit show “The Masked Singer” without a studio audience, sprucing up the singing competition with audio of applause recorded during last week’s episode.

In the UK, long-running BBC soap opera “Eastenders” has been postponed and is effectively being rationed, cut from four episodes to two per week, so that existing programmes already filmed can last for “as long as possible,” the BBC said in a statement. In ITV’s rival soap opera, “Coronation Street,” kissing scenes have been banned.

The virus is challenging traditional broadcasters more than streaming giants such as Netflix and Amazon.com, which are less reliant on live programming and advertising revenue, both of which have been badly hit. For example, the suspension of top-flight club soccer and postponement of Uefa’s Euro 2020 competition have left large gaps in the schedules of Comcast Corp’s Sky, ITV and France’s RMC Sport, owned by Altice Europe NV.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said John Turner, global head of media practice at management consultants Oliver Wyman. He said long-term production of shows will be shelved and broadcasters won’t be able to charge such high advertising rates when showing old library content.

Pan-regional broadcasters, such as Discovery’s Eurosport and Time Warner’s CNN, will also suffer as they tend to benefit from global tourism marketing and luxury brand ads, which have declined steeply due to the virus.

“It’s going to be ugly,” said Turner.

Sky is allowing viewers to freeze payments for sport subscriptions after the English soccer Premier League was put on hold. It will replace live games with feature programmes and archive footage. In France, RMC Sport will broadcast documentaries and famous old matches such as European Cup games to fill its scheduling gap, Herve Beroud, Altice Media’s deputy director-general in charge of news and sports, said in a radio interview on Wednesday.

“There’s no black screen, obviously,” Beroud said. “We have a large catalogue.”

Bloomberg