Mar 12, 2020 - Health

Networks ax live TV audiences over coronavirus concerns

Photo: Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images

Major television networks are abandoning audiences for their live shows in an effort to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus, networks confirmed on Wednesday.

The big picture: 2020 candidates are canceling political rallies out of concern for COVID-19, as sports leagues and teams take similar precautions by barring fans from some of the most highly anticipated sporting events of the year.

Driving the news: NBC, ABC and CBS all announced measures Wednesday to air late-night television programs, game shows and live daytime talk shows without live audiences.

  • Most of the big broadcast networks are removing audiences from their late-night television shows, sources tell Axios. That includes NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon" and "Late Night With Seth Meyers" and CBS' "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert."
  • Not all daytime live show audiences are being canceled, but many are. All of ABC's live studio audiences will reportedly go audience-free, including "The View" and "Live With Kelly and Ryan." CBS' daytime talk show "The Talk" still has its audience, but is assessing the situation daily, according to sources.
  • Cable networks are playing it safe. HBO's "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” TBS' Full-Frontal With Samantha Bee" and Comedy Central’'s "The Daily Show With Trevor Noah" said they'll begin taping without live audiences.

Our thought bubble: Some shows are somewhat dependent on their audiences as part of their content. A spokesperson for "The Price is Right" said they are "taking the health of our employees, contestants and audience members very seriously and are continually monitoring the situation on a day-to-day basis."

Sports teams and leagues are following suit.

  • The NBA said Wednesday it canceled games until further notice in response to the outbreak, and it announced a Utah Jazz player had tested positive for the virus.
  • NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments will be played without fans, NCAA president Mark Emmert announced Wednesday.
  • The Big Ten Conference said starting Thursday game attendance at all spring and winter competitions will be restricted to coaches, event staff, student-athletes, immediate family members, media and conference staff.
  • The National Hockey League announced Thursday it would "pause" its current season after determining it was "no longer appropriate to continue to try to play games at this time."
  • Major League Soccer said Thursday that it is suspending matches for 30 days.

Yes, but: The Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards management group still plans to host games in Washington, D.C., Monumental Sports announced Wednesday. There are at least 10 presumptive cases in D.C. — including person-to-person transmission.

The bottom line: Fans aren't only integral to the game experience, but leagues, teams and networks depend on the money they bring in.

Political rallies are being canceled left and right.

  • President Trump canceled upcoming rallies in Colorado and Nevada, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told reporters on Wednesday.
  • Trump's decision comes after Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden canceled dueling rallies in Cleveland, Ohio, amid the virus spread, and after Florida's AFL-CIO presidential forum was called off.
  • Biden and Sanders will not debate in front of a live audience in Phoenix, Arizona, this weekend, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego confirmed on Tuesday.

The big picture: The World Health Organization announced Wednesday that it classified the novel coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic, causing companies that were on the fence about taking drastic precautionary measures to pull the trigger.

What's next: It's still unclear whether baseball's Opening Day games will be canceled, but the NBA's suspension of its season makes it more difficult for other leagues to decide to play.

Go deeper: Coronavirus updates

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Why it matters: With so many Americans nesting at home, linear TV viewership was expected to spike. But without sports, streaming platforms, video games and other mediums will likely be the big winners instead.

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