American businesses find creative ways to adapt to social distancing

Joe Supan

Mar 26, 2020 — 5 min read

With the coronavirus pandemic temporarily closing places across the U.S., many have adjusted in surprising ways.

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The coronavirus has affected every corner of our lives, in every corner of the globe. Sports leagues are on hold indefinitely, many companies have sent employees home and the federal government has advised against gatherings of 10 or more people. 

The U.S. economy hasn’t seen a disruption on this scale since World War II. With experts unanimously advising everyone to stay home, many businesses have essentially gone dark. 

But even in these uncertain times, American ingenuity has adapted in surprising and imaginative ways. Here are some of the stories we’re most excited about right now. 

NBCUniversal is releasing new movies online instead of in theaters

With major movie theater chains like AMC, Regal and Cinemark shutting their doors indefinitely, NBCUniveral decided to try something new (for traditional studios, at least). It will stream the movies instead. 

While major movies like Mulan, No Time to Die and Fast & Furious 9 simply had their release dates pushed back, movies that were already in theaters (or set to be released soon) have moved their films to rental services like iTunes and Amazon Instant Video. 

That means you can currently watch movies like Emma, The Hunt and Invisible Man while still maintaining social distancing best practices. That said, it will cost you. Right now, each of these movies costs $20 to rent for 48 hours. 

Sports leagues have opened up their vaults

With sports paused for the foreseeable future, the major American sports leagues have all extended free trials to their premium subscriptions services for the next month or so. That gives you access to replays of games, behind-the-scenes documentaries and tons of archival footage. Here’s what you can get from each league:

  • NFL Game Pass is free until May 31. This streaming service gives you access to replays of any game from 2009 to 2019, including condensed 45-minute versions and the All-22 angles coveted by football junkies. You’ll also get beloved NFL Originals like Hard Knocks, Mic’d Up and A Football Life.
  • NBA League Pass is also opening up access to its service until April 22. You can catch full-length and condensed replays of any game from the 2019-2020 season, plus dozens of classic games and documentaries.
  • MLB.TV has also opened up their vaults. Fans can watch any game from the 2018 and 2019 seasons, including playoffs. There’s no word on how long this offer will last; the MLB simply says that it’s for a “limited time.”
  • Hockey fans don’t need to worry: NHL.TV is also providing free access to its service through April 30. You can watch replays of every game from the 2019-2020 season, as well as a collection of NHL Original Productions content.

In addition to these subscription services, CBS and ESPN have both been re-airing classic games on their channels, with an emphasis on legendary March Madness moments. 

Meal and grocery delivery services adapt to social distancing

With most U.S. states imposing stricter social distancing policies in the last week, meal and grocery delivery services have seen a dramatic rise in orders. According to estimates from Earnest Research, Instacart, Amazon and Walmart all saw at least a 65% rise in sales in the past week compared to the same time last year. 

It’s the same story with meal deliveries. More than half of all U.S. states have closed restaurants, leaving a gigantic industry without their primary source of income. In response, many have opened their menus to food delivery services like GrubHub, Uber Eats, DoorDash and Postmates.

All four of these apps, which together account for around 99% of all restaurant delivery sales, have adopted new measures to safely deliver food during the pandemic. Each of them has added an option for no-contact delivery, and several have also come up with unique ways to help struggling restaurants. 

Grubhub announced last week that it would defer collection of up to $100 million in commissions for independent restaurants impacted by the coronavirus. According to Grubhub, “Restaurants will have four weeks to repay the deferred commissions, after a two-week grace period in which they make the regular commission payments of between 15 and 30%.”

However, this deferral only applies to marketing commission fees, which is what restaurants pay to be listed on Grubhub’s platform. Restaurants that get these fees deferred will still have to pay delivery and order processing fees. Additionally, Grubhub will require restaurants to partner with them for one year after signing on to the deferral program. 

In an effort to boost restaurant sales, Uber Eats has waived delivery fees altogether for independent restaurants affected by the coronavirus. They’re still taking commission fees from those restaurants — estimated at 30% of an order — but by waiving delivery fees, it hopes to drum up business for those restaurants. 

Independent movie theaters turn to streaming

Last week, indie movie distributor Kino Lorber announced an agreement with independent theaters across the country to host a “virtual theatrical exhibition initiative.” Like NBCUniversal, Kino Lorber will release movies that it had scheduled to play in theaters online instead. 

Viewers buy virtual tickets through the website of the theater they want to support, then the theater sends you a link to stream it. The revenue is then split down the middle between Kino Lorber and the theater. There are currently 12 theaters participating in the program: 

  • Aperture Cinema (Winston Salem, NC)
  • Austin Film Society (Austin, TX)
  • BAM (Brooklyn, NY)
  • Belcourt Theater (Nashville, TN)
  • Denver Film / Sie FilmCenter (Denver, CO)
  • Film at Lincoln Center (New York, NY)
  • The Frida Cinema (Santa Ana, CA)
  • Jacob Burns Film Center (Pleasantville, NY)
  • The Little Theatre (Rochester, NY)
  • Loft Cinema (Tucson, AZ)
  • Santa Barbara International Film Festival Riviera Theatre (Santa Barbara, CA)
  • Wexner Center for the Arts (Columbus, OH)

“When theaters started to close, we at Kino Lorber turned our thoughts to how we could collaborate with our independent theater partners across the country. We cannot release the kinds of films we do without their support,” said Wendy Lidell, SVP of Theatrical Distribution at Kino Lorber.

This week, you can stream new releases like Saint Frances, Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, Bacarau and Corpus Christi

Museums and parks offer virtual tours

With museums shutting their doors for a while, many have decided to make their exhibits available virtually instead. From zoos to national parks to art museums, here are 12 virtual reality tours that the Washington Post recommends if you need a culture fix during the coronavirus outbreak:

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