10 ways entertainment capitalised on COVID

The entertainment industry was among those hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, but by transforming products and services, ten businesses had much to gain from a rapidly changing media landscape
Pivots entertainment

1. Curzon brings the cinema home

Cinemas have struggled over the course of the pandemic. Yet while titans like Cineworld face permanent closure, smaller brands have fared better thanks to a leaner business model and an ability to understand their own audience niches. When Curzon was forced to close temporarily their 13 cinema sites, the brand funnelled money into improving the customer experience of their on-demand Curzon Home Cinema streaming platform. As an arthouse alternative to the likes of Netflix, several independent films skipped cinemas to debut on the platform. Consequently, Curzon saw its highest viewing figures on the platform by the third weekend of March, up 89 per cent on its previous record.

2. Fortnite hosts a gaming headliner

While competitive gaming and rap music might not seem like the most obvious companions, the developers behind online multiplayer phenomenon Fortnite struck gold when they decided to host a sell-out concert within the confines of their game’s virtual universe. Rapper Travis Scott, who was due to be starring at California’s Coachella festival at the time, instead headlined a spectacular, psychedelic show for gamers, with performances staggered for different time zones. At 12.3 million viewers, Scott’s concert set an all-time record for virtual attendance of an in-game event and may have forever changed the customer experience of live music fans in the process.

3. Cards Against Humanity targets a new market

If the millions it spent on a Super Bowl ad of an uncooked potato is anything to go by, American game manufacturer Cards Against Humanity is adept at making risky business decisions. When it became clear COVID-19 would be confining customers together in their homes, the company saw an opportunity to fast-track the launch of its game’s new, family-friendly iteration. Bypassing the production-line issues presented by such a decision, they decided to make a beta version of the game available to download and print for free, not only creating positive customer feedback, but acting as an effective road test for the real game’s physical launch.

4. FA Cup taps into sporting nostalgia

Fans weren’t the only ones who suffered when live sports were suspended. Sports magazines, podcasters, broadcasters and beyond were all devoid of fresh content, and the entertainment industry was left with a gaping hole where sports coverage would normally be. The Emirates FA Cup faced down this never-before-seen situation with a warming dose of nostalgia, courtesy of content creator Little Dot Studios. The Football Association’s social media feed was turned into a platform for fans to stream FA Cup games from the 1990s and 2000s, leading to a notable jump in viewers, subscribers and average time spent watching videos.

5. Quercus slashes publishing lead times

Despite shuttered bookshops and stalled printing presses, the pandemic saw UK book sales rise by a third. Capitalising on current events, publishing house Quercus obtained the rights to Lockdown, a novel set in a pandemic, which Scottish crime writer Peter May had written, and not sold, 15 years ago. An ebook version was published within two weeks, with the paperback a week later, which was an almost unprecedented lead time in an industry where years can pass between book deal and publication. The book quickly became a bestseller, in no small part due to the public relations around its prescient plot and the speed with which Quercus was able to deliver it.

6. National Theatre turns to streaming

The entire entertainment industry suffered adaptation difficulties during lockdown, but pivoting to an online-first environment was especially tough for theatres whose entire raison d’être was an in-person audience. While unable to stage shows, the National Theatre turned its efforts to creating a virtual customer experience to reach far more people than the average theatre audience. It did this by releasing weekly shows to watch live on its YouTube channel, each one at a set time, as a stage show would be. The screening of One Man Two Guvnors garnered almost three million viewers and saw a subsequent surge in donations totalling tens of thousands of pounds.

7. Encore’s music messaging service

The ban on live music proved a problem for London-based startup Encore, a business created for the easy booking of musicians for events. Yet the benefit of size meant the business was able to adapt quickly, pivoting to become a personalised music messaging service with proceeds split between the company, the musicians involved and donations to the NHS. As an early adapter, Encore received plenty of press coverage for the move and, by focusing on a simple interface and customer satisfaction, the resulting word of mouth meant it was able to stay afloat at a time when the entertainment industry was sinking.

8. STX Entertainment skips the cinema

In the age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “non-event” blockbusters increasingly struggle to sell tickets. So, when the pandemic struck, film production companies were offered a unique opportunity to test new ways of releasing movies. Take STX Entertainment’s action comedy My Spy, starring Dave Bautista, which “would have almost certainly died a bad death in theatres”, according to Deadline. After selling the US rights to Amazon Prime, the film saw such success on streaming that it’s being considered for a sequel, while STX’s Gerard Butler film Greenland has already been pulled from US cinema schedules in favour of a Prime debut.

9. Time Out becomes ‘Time In’

London listings magazine Time Out relies heavily on distribution to commuters. So, with offices closed and tubes empty, the free sheet was forced to think fast to retain audience and advertisers. The answer? A total, albeit temporary, rebrand to Time In. While the magazine stopped printing, Time In utilised Instagram and live streaming to provide viewers with everything from sourdough lessons with master London bakers to virtual discos courtesy of the capital’s best DJs. By putting social media first, Time In was still able to provide the customer experience expected of London’s premier listings outlet, as well as build brand awareness ahead of the print edition’s relaunch.

10. BBC plays with customer expectations

Despite the understandable upswing in TV viewing figures, the COVID-19 shutdown of production created a scarcity of new shows to keep viewers interested. BBC One took a novel approach to the issue with Staged, a comedy set during lockdown and filmed almost entirely in the form of remote video conversations. Trading on pre-established chemistry between stars David Tennant and Michael Sheen, the show’s nature meant it could be produced safely and cheaply while offering big-name cameos from the likes of Dame Judi Dench and Samuel L. Jackson. The show’s popularity ensured a prime-time repeat run just a fortnight after finishing and has since been bought by streaming giant Netflix.