As the so-called “second wave” of COVID-19 infections surges in states like Texas, Arizona, and Florida, millions of parties and events, large and small, are being affected. It’s undeniable that COVID is changing the world; what remains to be seen is how permanent many of those changes will be. So what’s happening around the world and in the USA, and how do things look moving forward?
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Major Events are Being Cancelled
Enough major, big-named events have been cancelled due to the pandemic that a dedicated Wikipedia page has been created just to track it all. Among those events are:
- Major industry conventions, including Def-Con, the College of Cardiology annual meeting, and TED 2020.
- A huge array of sporting events, ranging from amateur football to the 2020 Olympics.
- Major gaming and anime conventions, including A-Kon, BlizzCon, Gamescom, and San Diego Comic-Con.
Many of these cancellations, delays, and reschedules have a huge financial and cultural impact.
The 2020 Olympics are one of the biggest events to be rescheduled due to COVID. This is a historic happening; no other Olympic Games in history have been rescheduled, at least so far as the modern games are concerned. As of this writing, the new schedule for the Games is a start date for the opening ceremony of July 23, 2021.
Japan, the host country for the 2020 Olympics, is currently estimated to have to spend an additional $2.7 billion in costs to host the Games. The original cost was estimated to be around $12.6 billion, so that’s not exactly an insignificant increase, and it might not even be the full story. Japan’s National Audit Board has produced an even worse estimate, placing the total cost for the games at $22.3 billion by the time all is said and done.
Other events, which are more traditionally held annually, have been cancelled entirely for the year. Coachella, one of the world’s largest music festivals, has finally been cancelled. They had initially rescheduled for October of 2020, but recent decisions have led to the complete cancellation of the 2020 event. 2020 passes will be honored for the 2021 event, still currently scheduled for April of 2021, and they’ve updated their refund policy to account for the pandemic.
The loss of a year of planning and revenue hits hard, however, and the parent company that runs Coachella has started layoffs of 15% of their staff, furloughs for 100 employees, and widespread pay cuts for those who remain of up to 50%.
The Tony Awards, fully known as the Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre, have been postponed. Originally scheduled for June of 2020, they currently have no date for a new awards show. It’s not just the awards; all of Broadway is shut down for the safety of performers and attendees, even though the shutdown could have an economic cost of up to a billion dollars.
Europe isn’t faring quite as poorly as the United States, but even still, major events have seen dramatic changes. Eurovision was set to be hosted in Rotterdam, which had spent over 15 million Euros on organizing and planning. With a date in mid-May, the event was sensibly cancelled, to avoid becoming a hotspot for infection during the peak of European infections.
Rotterdam is petitioning to be the host for the 2021 event, though estimates place the cost of the carry-over at another 6.7 million Euros. It remains to be seen what the final decision will be.
Small Scale Events See Shakeups
Not every event affected by COVID is a huge million-dollar affair with hundreds of thousands of attendees. No, the vast majority of events impacted by COVID are much smaller and more intimate, though no less important to the people who attend.
We’re talking about weddings, graduations, birthday parties, and other local and family events.
Gathering together a wedding party is certainly dangerous, particularly when family members come together from across the country. It’s made more difficult because airlines aren’t flying, too. Many states have issued restrictions on the size of gatherings, so large weddings simply don’t work.
Estimates place the total at over 95% of weddings being rescheduled, either for later this year or for some time in 2021, possibly even the same date. Each wedding venue handles this differently, and decisions cascade from there. Catering, rentals, décor; it all needs to be adjusted.
For the consumer, most companies are accommodating to these situations that are beyond anyone’s control. They’re offering rescheduled use of venues or rental agreements without rescheduling or cancellation fees and refunds on deposits. While this is great for the people getting married, the wedding industry as a whole is facing down an estimate of nearly $90 billion in lost revenue.
Other major life milestones are being affected as well. One of the biggest is higher education. Colleges and universities are making their own decisions about whether or not to open for the coming Fall Semester. Some are closing their doors to keep their student body safe. Others are opening with a full transition to distance learning via online courses, though the technology investment necessary for this makes it a difficult prospect for most institutions.
Most, though, are considering now that it’s not a question of whether or not they re-open, but how they re-open. The loss of tuition and the loss of patronage is too much for many facilities, so they’re instead looking at how they can adjust their campuses, dorms, and facilities to be used safely. Social distancing rules, consumable items rather than reusable or communal items, plexiglass screens for receptionists and desk workers; you name it, they’re giving it a try somewhere in the country.
Even in the early days of the pandemic, over 1,100 colleges and universities announced closures, cutting off the ongoing semester and throwing 14 million students into disarray, left to figure out what they’re doing. Many were forced to move out of dorms, cancel plans to move into campus housing, or otherwise adjust their expected life trajectories.
We can’t forget, either, all of the unfortunate souls graduating into this pandemic. Worse than even the great recession, the pandemic has forced millions of businesses to close, cutting back on hiring, cutting existing workers, and even shuttering their businesses as a whole. Unemployment rates went from a bit under 4% to a whopping 14% in mid-May, and it’s entirely possible that they’ll rise again as the second wave impacts the country.
COVID has had a broad financial impact on people across the country, both positively and negatively. Millions of people have lost jobs and have turned to unemployment, or the government stimulus meant to keep people alive while they’re furloughed. Millions of people face down medical bills with insurance they’ve just lost, or for illnesses, they’ve just contracted. The crash of the stock market lost fortunes and cut retirement accounts. It will take years for the full extent of the impact to shake out.
The Bright Side
While it may seem like every sector across the country is in a doomed spiral, all is not lost. Many sectors are taking advantage of the pandemic – in ethical ways, of course – to grow.
The most obvious, perhaps, is Netflix. With millions of people stuck at home with nothing to do, Netflix has experienced a major boom in subscriptions. All the way back in April, what feels like years ago today, Netflix had already doubled their expected number of new subscribers, with nearly 16 million signing up for the service to watch shows like Tiger King and Love is Blind. No doubt that trend has continued as more and more people find themselves exhausting other possibilities for entertainment.
Speaking of entertainment, the gaming sector has exploded as well. Nintendo’s handheld console, the Switch, sold 24% more units year over year. For a console released three years ago with an already-wide market saturation, this is impressive, to say the least. Among the many driving factors for the Switch was the release of the newest Animal Crossing franchise game, New Horizons, which sold more than 13.5 million copies. Not only is this an impressive number on its own, but it also eclipses all past games in the franchise.
Video game sales overall are on the rise, partially through widespread acceptance and partially due to the lockdowns that the pandemic has caused. Year over year sales increased by 35% in March, approaching $1.6 billion.
Twitch, the most popular game live streaming service, has grown too. In April, they reported a whopping 1.49 billion hours of content watched, which is 50% more than the number from March. Those who don’t game themselves, watch others game. Not to mention all of the people taking to Twitch as a potential alternative means of making money. Those numbers won’t kick in for another month or so, though, as new streamers need to stream for a month or two with rising metrics before they can sign an affiliate or partnership agreement.
Of course, at the same time, major video game announcements and releases are being pushed back. Game studios are businesses no different than any other, and they, too, have to face the challenges of social distancing, lockdowns, a loss of trade shows, and a transition to more remote work.
The Boom of Remote Work
Speaking of remote work, it’s certainly a growth industry around the world. Zoom has become the poster child for remote work, as a collaboration and video conferencing platform with quick and easy setup for businesses both large and small. They just happened to be positioned properly to take advantage of the spikes in interest caused by the pandemic.
The results? Zoom had 10 million users in December, but by March, boasted over 200 million daily users. Their iPhone app has been the number one free app in the U.S. since March 18th, with no signs of slowing down. Daily downloads are up 30x.
Remote work is set to be one of the major battles, both in terms of workers’ rights and in terms of business organization in the coming year or more.
On one side, some businesses are discovering that remote work has a wide range of benefits. Without needing to maintain an office, they can downsize, holding less real estate. Meanwhile, workers left to work from home are often – though not always – appreciative, treating it as a benefit and a perk, with the accompanying boost to morale.
At the same time, other businesses are finding it more difficult. Some companies simply don’t work in an industry where online collaboration is effective. Some don’t have the luxury of remote work, like manufacturing, hands-on jobs like meat processing, and (of course) healthcare.
Arguments are being made on both sides. On one side, people push for remote work, to give more flexibility and freedom to workers living their lives. On the other side, some experts predict that remote work will have an overall negative impact on productivity and quality of work.
In large part, it certainly depends on the workforce. Some people are simply much better suited to remote work, individual time management, and self-motivation than others. And, of course, some people simply don’t live in areas where remote work is feasible. Despite being a modern first-world country, the USA has severe issues with the availability of high-speed internet and other accommodations, like childcare, necessary for effective remote work.
One way or another, the face of work, of employment, of social gatherings and events, and of culture as a whole will forever be changed by the pandemic of 2020. What remains to be seen is what sorts of new cultures, new trends, and new institutions arise from the ashes of the old.