When will TV get back to normal?

It’s a question many will be wondering just now and one which is impossible to answer.

It all depends on how long the current emergency continues for and the speed at which restrictions are eased. But once they are eased what happens?

The easy bit is to allow live and topical programmes to return to normal. Loose Women and Lorraine could be back to normal within days – perhaps immediately, perhaps the following Monday.

Similarly the BBC could decide how quickly to restore things like the regional opts during Breakfast and the normal studio arrangements and scheduling for Newsnight.

The same can be said for topical programmes which are continuing in diminished form like Have I Got News for You.

This would be the point at which you might expect to see normal UTV branding and continuity to return too.

If changes to Newsnight‘s scheduling or UTV don’t happen soon after normalisation, then it may start to look like some of the changes have become established.

However it’s worth bearing in mind that even once the restrictions ease there could be staffing issues if significant numbers of employees are unwell or self-isolating. Many companies would encourage staff to work from home where possible.

However quickly “everyday” TV is normalised, the disruption to recording schedules will have an impact stretching months ahead. EastEnders and the ITV soaps could disappear by early summer or could face further rationing so they don’t disappear completely.

The question, once recording resumes, is how quickly to return to the normal episode count. It might be necessary to make a “phased return” especially if episode stocks run very low. Or could they be made to tighter deadlines?

Stretching further ahead, there is the question of the continuing supply of dramas and other high-end programmes. Some will be delayed or have been suspended mid-production. It’s likely that there will be more repeats and fast-turnaround programmes for some time.

Perhaps most worrying though, is the simple question of the economics of commercial free-to-air TV.

Channel 4 has already announced massive cuts following an unprecedented collapse in advertising. ITV is in a stronger financial position but might its programme budget need to be cut again? Or might some public service obligations prove commercially unviable?

Then there is the question of whether some of the small free-to-air channels might survive at all.

The TV industry in the UK has never faced a situation like this before. This is not like the effect of a strike or a normal economic downturn.

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Posted by Andrew Nairn

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