LOS ANGELES (AP) — Sports are on hold, theaters are closed and so are amusement parks, a disaster-movie scenario that has Hollywood reeling. But Americans held captive at home by the coronavirus can turn to Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and other streaming services, outliers in an entertainment industry brought to an unprecedented standstill.
The recent launch of Disney and Apple services and the upcoming arrival of NBCUniversal’s Peacock and WarnerMedia’s HBO Max unleashed speculation about winners and losers in an increasingly crowded field. With self-imposed or required isolation the abrupt reality, emerging and niche streamers could draw new subscribers — gains that may even outlast the coronavirus crisis.
The viral outbreak “has caused so much pain across industries globally,” said Dan Ives, an analyst with Wedbush Securities. “Yet on the streaming side, the demand for those services is going to increase exponentially over the next three to six months” as consumers around the world remain stuck in place.
Up to a 20 percent increase is likely in the amount of time subscribers spend watching streamed fare, and millions of new customers will hop aboard worldwide, Ives predicted.
Pay TV channels could benefit as well as more people become shut-ins and reconsider cutting the cord, slowing an accelerating trend, said analyst Jeffrey Wlodarczak of Pivotal Research Group. Broadcast networks facing rating declines also could see a boost in viewership, he said.
Streaming companies are reacting to the moment in varied ways, but always carefully. Media companies want to be seen as good citizens who are serving up an antidote to anxiety over the virus and housebound boredom, not capitalizing on a disaster.
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.
Netflix, sitting comfortably in the front ranks of streamers, emailed customers with a gentle nudge to “Rewind. Replay. Rewatch,” followed by suggestions of previously viewed titles such as “The Crown,” “Schitt’s Creek” and the 2012 movie “Frances Ha” starring Greta Gerwig.
The Walt Disney Co. put the box-office hit “Frozen” on its Disney Plus streaming service three months earlier than planned, “surprising families with some fun and joy during this challenging period.” The animated film became available in the past few days on the service in the U.S., Canada, Holland, Australia and New Zealand.
Hulu, controlled by majority owner Disney, is relying for now on such high-profile programs as the newly released Reese Witherspoon-Kerry Washington series “Little Fires Everywhere,” based on Celeste Ng’s bestselling novel.
For Disney, streaming is the outlier in a corporate portfolio otherwise slammed by the coronavirus: The suspension of theatrical and TV productions and delays in new movie releases, including its long-anticipated “Black Widow,” but also the closure of Disney resorts in the U.S., France and Asia and the sports lull’s impact on its ESPN channels.
Disney and the other major streaming services didn’t respond or declined requests for comment for this article.