Impact of new lockdown measures on broadcasting

It’s the last thing anybody would have wanted. Circuit breakers in Wales, Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland have been followed by an impending 4-week lockdown in England.

But will the effect on broadcasting be as great as in the spring? In short, the answer this time is no.

In the spring, broadcasters faced the worst peacetime crisis they had ever contemplated. Productions shuddered to a halt. Emergency rotas were compiled to allow news programmes and a few other programmes deemed essential – such as This Morning and The One Show – to stay on the air using staff considered to be key workers.

Emergency plans were drawn up in case national news programmes could not be broadcast from London. Emergency transmission arrangements were put on standby – the sort of disaster recovery plans normally used for power cuts, the effects of terrorism or truly exceptional weather.

This time round, the effects of new restrictions and the English lockdown on TV will be much more limited.

It’s been made clear that TV production can continue – there will be genuine practical problems for producers to face but I’m a Celebrity, Strictly and the soaps will not be coming off air.

The new English lockdown allows people to leave home when work cannot be done from home. That means there is no need to reduce gallery or production staff – one reason why ITV daytime dropped Loose Women and merged Lorraine into Good Morning Britain in the spring.

There was also a real concern that so many staff would fall ill or have to self-isolate that working would be impossible in some locations.

This time, the new normal of Facetime interviews and distanced hosts will continue but fundamental fresh disruption is unlikely.

However there is one important exception – studio audiences are out of the question. The atmosphere on Strictly may seem very different.

Those of us who remember Wogan decamping to the tiny Pres studios normally used by the weather presenters, Barry Norman and But First This may chuckle at the memory of comments that his chat show was better without a large audience. A few chuckles and claps from the crew seemed much more genuine in some respects.

And, before anyone asks, the latest restrictions do not provide a straightforward reason why UTV branding could not have been reintroduced by now if there was a desire to do so. By now, homeworking and workarounds are in place for many other eventualities in many businesses.  Rather this is about an individual company’s priorities and what they consider to be important.

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Posted by Andrew Nairn

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