Mar 26, 2020 - Economy

Media and entertainment industries pleased with coronavirus stimulus

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Nearly every segment of the media and entertainment industry, including movies, television, radio, news outlets and more, says it feels at least somewhat relieved by Congress' $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that the House is expected to vote on Friday.

Why it matters: The media and entertainment sector is heavily reliant on out-of-home venues, freelancers and in-person staffing. As a result, the industry has been completely upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Driving the news: After days of intense negotiations, the White House and Senate leaders struck a bipartisan $2 trillion stimulus deal early Wednesday.

  • The deal brings relief to dozens of industries in an effort to ease the economic impact of the virus.
  • Many trade groups are waiting to see if specific proposals make it in the final version of the bill, but so far, provisions that support unemployment insurance for independent contractors and small business loans have the media and entertainment sectors hopeful.

Newspapers, especially local outlets, are wading through a financial crisis as advertising revenue has begun to recede. David Chavern, president and CEO of News Media Alliance, a newspaper trade group that represents thousands of local and national papers, says the bill's provisions could be helpful to the industry.

  • "I actually think the small business lending provisions could actually prove pretty useful to news publishers," Chavern said in an email to Axios.
  • "Many more are 'small businesses' than you think. (The standard Small Business Association definition for newspapers is 1,000 employees or less.)" Chavern added that the other tax benefits and pension smoothing are helpful.
  • Yes, but: "Whether local news publishers still need something more or different is a matter of internal discussion in the industry," Chavern notes.
  • Last weekend, The Seattle Times editorial board called for a $1 billion economic relief plan to be built into the stimulus to help local newspapers recover from the crisis. No such plan was included in the stimulus bill.

Broadcasters, both television and radio, also seem happy with the relief from the stimulus.

  • The National Association of Broadcasters lobbied in recent days to ensure relief would be available for its radio and television station members, spokesperson Dennis Wharton said.
  • The bill will allow businesses that have 500 employees or less to qualify for loans of up to $10 million, with loan forgiveness possible if the funds are used to pay employees’ salaries over the coming months, per Wharton.
  • “Simply because of the 500 employee threshold, we are confident that the vast majority of broadcasters will be eligible for these forgivable bridge loans,” he said.

The broader music and entertainment industry, including musicians, record labels, Hollywood writers, talent and more, penned a letter to congressional leaders asking for measures that would help part-time and freelancers in particular. For the most part, they got what they asked for in the bill.

  • The group asked lawmakers for unemployment insurance to include independent contractors and self-proprietors, such as musicians. They also asked that small business loans be extended to self-proprietors and for a multimillion-dollar endowment be made to organizations that can give direct relief to members of the creative community.
  • "There were three things we asked for and we're getting them, which is wonderful," says Mitch Glazier, chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America. "The whole music community came together in 24 hours and 40 organizations put their names on one letter, which was really helpful."

The theater industry, which has been hit particularly hard by the crisis, seemed ecstatic with the version of the bill that the Senate passed. Most movie theaters are currently shut down in the U.S., making the sector one of the most severely impacted in the entertainment space.

  • "We applaud the bipartisan agreement reached in the Senate today," the National Association of Theater Owners said in a statement Wednesday. "With this agreement, movie theaters can look forward with confidence to re-opening and once again serving their communities when this crisis has passed."
  • Theater owners started urging Congress to pass a stimulus bill last week that would address loan guarantee programs for severely distressed sectors of the economy, like movie theaters, as well as small business interruption loans, payroll tax deferrals and other provisions.

The movie industry is mostly happy with the stimulus, especially as it provides much-needed relief for their counterparts in the theater industry, according to a source at the Motion Picture Association.

  • For movie studios that employ lots of part-time workers and freelance production staff, ensuring that their workers are covered by unemployment insurance under this bill is a huge win.
  • The source added that they hope the bill will be passed in the House by Friday.

What's next: Some groups argue that the journalism sector should have its own stimulus package that would offer direct support for newsrooms, which are now deemed by the federal government and many state governments as "essential services."

  • Many local and national newsrooms have begun instituting pay cuts, layoffs or have ceased publication altogether in response to the hit the advertising market has taken since the pandemic surged.

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