China's CCTV Cancels Oscars Red Carpet Coverage (Exclusive)

Oscars Statue - Getty - H 2019
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With the viral epidemic worsening at home, the state broadcaster is curtailing its on-the-ground coverage of the 92nd Academy Awards.

China's state broadcaster CCTV is calling off its usual live red carpet coverage of the Oscars in response to the worsening coronavirus crisis, a source at the public television network said Wednesday.

At present, CCTV is still planning to air a delayed taping of the Oscars telecast on its flagship movie channel CCTV6, as well as some live coverage of the ceremony over its in-house streaming platform M1905. But the network's usual TV crew and team of red carpet reporters will be kept home in China. What coverage remains will be produced out of Beijing.

It's entirely possible that the current broadcast plans could change over the coming days, depending on how the coronavirus outbreak progresses, the source said.

On Tuesday, China's media regulator said it would be cutting back on “entertaining” TV broadcasts across the country to make way for more news coverage of the national response to the health crisis. The move sparked dismay among many viewers, who took to social media to lament the decision. The bulk of China's populace is anxiously staying home and avoiding public spaces, with limited ways to pass the time. 

Forecasts vary widely, but some experts believe the epidemic could continue well into the spring. Health authorities said Wednesday that confirmed cases of the rapidly spreading coronavirus infection had climbed to 6,055 in China, with the death toll reaching 132.

Already, virtually the entirety of China's vast entertainment industry has ground to a halt. The country's biggest Chinese New Year films have all been pulled, and nearly all of the country's movie exhibition infrastructure — comprising about 70,000 screens — has shut down for an undetermined period. Theme parks, including Disney's Shanghai Disney Resort, are shuttered, while film and television shoots throughout the country have nearly all shut down.

Given that the ongoing Lunar New Year holiday is usually the busiest season of the year for moviegoing, the Beijing industry has already suffered an enormous financial blow, regardless of when cinemas reopen. Many believe the epidemic in China could drive the 2020 global box office total down by $1 billion to $2 billion.

The Oscars are broadly popular among film fans in China, and the awards also are a key brand building exercise for Hollywood in its second most important film territory. Awards season glory has been known to give U.S. prestige films a big bump at the country's huge theatrical box office. Universal and Amblin Entertainment's Green Book, for example, set a new box office record for a best picture winner in the country last year, earning a huge $70 million from a release scheduled shortly after the Academy Awards ceremony.

Encouraged by that success, four Oscar-nominated U.S. films — Jojo Rabbit, Little Women, Marriage Story and 1917 — had lined up February releases in China. All those releases are thought to be in serious jeopardy now.

China has submitted films for Oscar consideration in the best international film category since 1979, scoring nominations twice for Zhang Yimou films: romantic tragedy Ju Dou in 1990 and period action epic Hero in 2002.