New year, same story.

Hollywood events are once again experiencing calendar chaos as the spike in COVID-19 cases due to the infectious omicron variant has led to postponements and cancellations for everything from premieres and cocktail parties to screenings and award shows. Organizations and event producers started nixing events in late December but the dominos really started to tumble in recent days when the Sundance Film Festival and the Grammy Awards switched gears (Sundance went virtual; Grammys are postponed with no new date set), following earlier moves by the Critics Choice Awards, Governors Awards, AFI Awards and the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

What does this mean for 2022? Insiders say that it’s leading to a crunched awards season schedule with events now forced to reschedule in the narrow February and March window leading up to the Academy Awards on March 27.

“The Oscars have not postponed yet, so everybody has to get in before the Oscars,” says Judi Barker, owner of Barker Hangar, the Santa Monica event space still scheduled to host the SAG Awards on Feb. 27. As a result, that will leave just seven weekends for all of awards season to fit into — assuming omicron doesn’t continue wreaking havoc into February, now that Hollywood events have been completely cleared from the January calendar.

And though “due to the fact that things are closing down, there’s a lot of open dates,” says Barker, the season’s many award shows — including DGA, WGA, SAG, Critics Choice and Indie Spirits — may be left fighting over a handful of Sundays and other coveted nights. There are also voting windows to consider when deciding when to reschedule, one source says, as talent are more likely to participate in events when prime voting windows, for the likes of the Oscars and SAG Awards, are still open.

“It’s a daily thing at this time,” Barker adds, as shows and event planners consider their next moves. “Nobody really knows where this is going.”

Fights over dates aside, venues will also likely be a challenge — though most of the big shows are held at separate spaces year after year, many of the accompanying parties and smaller events reserve the same spots. And this year, there is sure to be an even bigger demand for venues with outdoor, COVID-safe spaces.

“We’ve got holds all over the place,” says NeueHouse Hollywood chief branding officer Jon Goss, with clients trying to nail down event dates. “Everybody’s going to be competing for space; we’re probably going to make sure that all the brands and clients we’ve worked with most regularly feel like they’ve got to push the button whenever they want to push the button, and we’ll be ready to do that.”

Goss says he expects that when events do return from this omicron pause, NeueHouse will be booked nearly every night until the Oscars to keep up with the demand — it’s just a question of when that return will be.

“I do envisage that we’re just not going to know exactly whether February will be what we think it’s going to be until probably the second or third week of January,” he says. “So it’s going to be a bit of a last-minute scramble, but that was the pattern in the summer and the fall for us anyway,” when delta canceled some events on a much smaller scale.

The cancellations to start 2022 are also forcing many venues and hospitality insiders to relive 2020’s PTSD. “Our numbers dramatically changed overnight,” said one hotel insider, who is regularly involved in hosting some of the town’s most exclusive bashes and events. “It’s really sad news. We were doing so well and then got so many cancellations at once. All of our events got moved back at least three or four weeks. It’s very painful as it was all just recovering.”

However, despite the numbers of premieres, festivals and award shows that have been scrapped, those in the industry are confident this is just a pause and not a full shutdown like seen at the beginning of the pandemic. The truest test of that, Goss says, will be what happens with the Super Bowl, set for Inglewood on Feb. 13, and art fest Frieze Los Angeles, set for Feb. 17. But for now, there is still hope. Says Goss, “we’re still expecting the major things that we have booked to happen in February and beyond.” 

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