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Will the coronavirus change the way we watch films?

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US-Chinese actress Yifei Liu attends the world premiere of Disney's "Mulan" at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on March 9.Image copyright
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The closure of cinemas across the US and China has forced film studios to rethink the way they screen movies.

During the peak of the outbreak in China one major movie went straight to an online platform and was seen by more than half a billion viewers.

US film studios could follow suit, and are already launching movies online at the same time as theatre releases.

The industry is facing losses of up to $15bn (£13bn) this year due to the pandemic, according to one expert.

The US and China are the world’s biggest movie-watching markets, based on box office sales. Both countries have seen severe disruptions from the coronavirus with widespread closures of cinemas.

China has around 60,000 movie theatres spread across the country, which closed in early January. The timing hit the film industry hard as it came just before Chinese New Year holidays, which normally see $2bn in sales at the box office.

One big film, Lost in Russia, went directly to a streaming site and clocked up in excess of 600m views, according to Chinese media reports. It was available for free from Chinese tech giant ByteDance via two of its streaming platforms.

So far this year worldwide box office sales are estimated to have fallen by at least $5bn, according to industry analysts, with roughly 50% of that drop in China’s market alone. “We will see that global number escalate in the coming weeks as China remains shut down, and we start to see theatres worldwide follow similar closures,” said Chris Fenton, author of Feeding the Dragon – Inside the trillion dollar dilemma facing Hollywood, the NBA and American business.

He has estimated the industry will lose $15bn in sales for the year as a whole because of closed cinemas, although this figure could grow depending on how long the pandemic lasts.

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In the US, film studio Universal announced that its three latest cinema releases will be available on streaming platforms while they are still playing in theatres. The release of its latest movie Trolls: World Tour will take place concurrently in US cinemas and online on 10 April.

“The virus outbreak is already changing how studios release films with some movies accelerating their home entertainment release plans,” said Gitesh Pandya, editor of BoxOfficeGuru.com. “With almost all US theatres closing down for the foreseeable future, they are looking at what ways they can still generate revenue”.

Mr Pandya says online-first movie releases suit small and medium-sized films studios “who may want to increase digital releases so they can still reach a global audience”.

Some film studios have decided to delay film releases until later in the year, including the new James Bond movie, No Time to Die. This week Disney announced further disruption to its entertainment business by delaying launch of its Marvel movie Black Widow.

Disney’s Mulan, a blockbuster film to appeal to a Chinese audience, was due to be released this month but has been delayed along with two other movies. Responding to reports Mulan could premier on the Disney Plus streaming platform instead, a spokesman said “We truly believe in the movie going experience”.



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Coronavirus: Ofcom ‘assesses’ David Icke TV interview

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David Icke on London Live

The UK’s media watchdog is looking into a TV network’s broadcast of an interview with conspiracy theorist David Icke about coronavirus.

Ofcom said it was “assessing this programme as a priority”, following London Live’s screening of the programme on Wednesday evening.

It follows YouTube’s introduction of stricter misinformation rules after a later interview with Mr Icke by the same team was streamed on its platform.

The government has expressed concern.

‘Inaccurate claims’

“Clearly that station is regulated by Ofcom. And I would be expecting Ofcom to take appropriate action,” said Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Clearly they are independent but I will be in touch with them to understand what action they are taking in respect to that.”

A tweet by London Live to promote the programme – produced by an independent company that also offers training services – prompted a backlash ahead of the broadcast.

But Ofcom is able to intervene only after a programme has been broadcast.

And it has now received 19 complaints about the programme from the public.

Last week, the watchdog sanctioned a community radio network for having broadcast a discussion that “contained potentially harmful views about coronavirus”.

“During the current pandemic, it’s important that potentially misleading information about the coronavirus is not broadcast on radio or TV,” Ofcom said at the time.

“This includes inaccurate claims about potential causes, symptoms, and treatments for the virus.”

Image caption

London Live screened a warning notice several times during the programme

On Tuesday, YouTube deleted copies of a later interview with Mr Icke – embedded into the production company’s site and hosted on YouTube’s platform – and announced it would wipe any other videos that also falsely linked Covid-19 to 5G mobile networks.

The production company, however, has since reuploaded this interview to another US-based service – Vimeo – to allow it to continue to be seen.

Mr Icke does not mention 5G by name in the interview broadcast by London Live, although at one point he does refer to an “electro-magnetic technologically generated soup of radiation toxicity”, which he claims has damaged old people’s immune systems. Scientists have previously rubbished suggestions mobile networks cause such harm.

London Live is owned by the Russian businessman Evgeny Lebedev, who also owns the Evening Standard and Independent newspapers.

It screened a notice during advert breaks, saying the views expressed in the programme were “not necessarily those” of the network and displayed the address of the government’s Covid-19 website.

BBC News has asked the network for comment.



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Paul Lambert: Ex-BBC producer who was ‘fixture of politics’ dies

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Paul Lambert

A former BBC producer described as a central character at Westminster and master of interviewing politicians on the street has died aged 61.

Paul Lambert, affectionately known as “Gobby”, was often heard on TV shouting questions at ministers.

He left the BBC in 2014 to become communications director of UKIP.

His daughter Danni said on Facebook the family were “devastated”. BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg described Mr Lambert as a “fixture of politics”.

Writing on Twitter, she added he was a “friend of everyone for so long – such sad, sad news”.

‘Master of the doorstep’

Based on Downing Street, Mr Lambert’s voice was heard on countless news reports putting ministers on the spot as they went about their business.

The nickname “Gobby” was a reference to Mr Lambert’s booming voice, which he used to project awkward questions towards politicians as they entered cars or walked down the street, known in broadcasting as a “doorstep”.

“The point really is to fill in the pieces of the TV bulletin piece that you haven’t got pictures to fill in. You know someone isn’t going to say anything, you just need something to happen,” Mr Lambert explained in 2013.

Others paying tribute on Twitter included political journalist Michael Crick, who said Mr Lambert was a “master of the political doorstep”.

Trade Minister Conor Burns said: “I remember the first time he shouted questions at me as I walked into Parliament. Went inside with a feeling I’d properly arrived.”

Former leader of UKIP Nigel Farage said Mr Lambert was a “unique man and great fun to work with”.

Craig Oliver, a former editor of flagship BBC News bulletins and ex-director of communications at No 10, said: “The start of a thousand TV news reports was Gobby shouting, ‘Are you going to resign?'”

Robert Peston, ITV’s political editor, said Mr Lambert was a “gent of the old school” who had “the best nose for a story”, while Sky News presenter Sophy Ridge described him as a “legend”.

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Media captionNewsnight compiled clips of Mr Lambert’s work when he left the BBC in 2014

BBC health editor Hugh Pym said Mr Lambert “always went the extra mile and asked the right question”, and BBC news presenter Reeta Chakrabarti said he was “such a central character in our Westminster newsroom for years… and a thoroughly nice man”.

Mr Lambert – who started his working career as an electrician – left the BBC ahead of the 2015 general election to lead communications for the UK Independence Party.



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Disney Plus racks up 50m subscribers in five months

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Ming-Na Wen arrives for the premiere of Disney+'s The MandalorianImage copyright
Albert L. Ortega

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The Mandalorian featuring Ming-Na Wen is a Disney+ offering

Disney’s new video streaming service has hit more than 50 million subscribers since its launch five months ago.

When Disney Plus last announced viewing figures in February it had reached 26.5 million subscribers.

Since then, this has almost doubled as more people are online and stuck at home due to virus clampdowns.

Disney Plus, which rivals Netflix and Amazon Prime, rolled out to the UK and other parts of Europe last month.

All three streaming platforms are enjoying a huge boost in viewing figures as cinemas remain closed and people are forced to stay indoors.

Disney Plus originally set a target of 60 million to 90 million subscribers by the end of fiscal 2024, when it was first launched in the US in November.

“We’re truly humbled that Disney Plus is resonating with millions around the globe,” said Kevin Mayer, a Disney spokesman.

Its subscription figures were given a boost by its audience in India, where Disney Plus was launched last week. Disney reported eight million new subscribers in India.

After the announcement on Wednesday evening, shares in Disney jumped 7% on Wall Street. The entertainment group has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, having to close its theme parks across the globe.

It has also had to stop production on new content and delay releases for potential blockbusters like Mulan and Black Widow.

Disney Plus is still behind both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in terms of global subscriptions. Netflix added almost nine million net global subscribers during the fourth quarter of 2019. At the end of last year, it had over 167 million paying subscribers globally. Amazon now has more than 150 million viewers.

But Disney Plus, which includes films and TV shows from Disney, Pixar, Star Wars and National Geographic, has grown much faster than its rivals.

“What Disney Plus has achieved in five months took Netflix seven years,” said Chris Fenton, a movie industry analyst. “Disney Plus possesses all the ammunition needed to surpass Netflix, and it also has the potential bazooka of China. If any American streaming service can gain access to the 1.4 billion people of China, it’s Disney Plus.”



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