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Aaaand cut! The entertainment industry struggles during the pandemic

THE EMPTY freeways of Los Angeles look like a scene from a disaster movie. For many Hollywood bosses, that is how things feel. With one in three people in the world subject to social-distancing rules, box-office takings in 2020 have collapsed. Television is bracing for revenue-starved advertisers to rein in spending. Shooting on productions slated for 2021 has ceased, portending an unpleasant sequel next year.

Covid-19 comes at a tumultuous time for show business. A five-year, $650bn investment binge was already reshaping it for the age of video-streaming. Debts taken on by giant media groups such as ATT, Comcast, Disney and ViacomCBS—which owe more than $350bn between them—look less sustainable now that their sales have sunk. Even Netflix, whose streaming-only offering is less vulnerable to lockdowns, is not immune. The pandemic will leave scars. It may claim a few victims, too.

Theatrical releases, which studios use to recoup blockbusters’ vast production costs, have all but stopped. Disney’s “Onward”, out on March 6th, has grossed one-fifth of its hoped-for $500m worldwide. Many premieres have moved partly or wholly online. Comcast’s NBCUniversal will start streaming “Trolls World Tour” on April 10th, the same day it opens in the few unshuttered cinemas, for $19.99, about the price of two cinema tickets. Paramount Pictures (part of ViacomCBS) has sold “The Lovebirds”, once scheduled for a cinema run, to Netflix. Releases held until the pandemic ends may find fewer cinemas to screen them. AMC, the world’s largest chain, which lost money in two of the past three years as audiences chose their couch over a night out, is teetering. Cineworld, the second-biggest, has said that in the (“unlikely”) worst-case scenario it may fold.

The small screen has its own problems. Nielsen, a research company, finds that in past lockdowns, such as during Hurricane Harvey, time

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