Is Peak TV Finally Starting to Slow Down? At Least for the Broadcast and Cable Channels?

By | December 22, 2016

Scripted Series Charts 2016 Updated.xlsxThe FX network has put out its yearly tally of scripted shows and the number has increased this year yet again to 455 (up from 421 at the end of 2015).  That network’s chief exec John Landgraf has been warning that there are not enough viewers to sustain all this scripted programming, though interestingly enough his net keeps cranking out shows (Legion is set to debut in February of next year and it has several more genre entries in the pipeline).  Perhaps he is just annoyed about all of the competition to his FX shows.

But one thing I find interesting with the latest chart (click on it to expand) is the fact that the number of scripted shows has gone down this year for all but the streaming services.  They aren’t down by much, and it is the first time we have seen any sort of decline since 2012 (in that year scripted shows dropped by four for the pay channels).  The reason that the overall number has gone up in 2016 is that the streaming services have more than doubled their scripted originals since last year.

So perhaps this indicates a slowdown in production from the broadcast nets and cable channels as well as a shift that goes along with the changing in viewing patterns.  With all the one-season-and-done shows that have been getting thrown on the Peak TV trash-heap the last few years, it may be that the more traditional television networks have decided to put the brakes on development to an extent, or at least gear down from the full-speed-ahead mode we have been seeing.  The streaming services on the other hand seem to have money burn and are cranking out shows at a record pace.  And since they fit in with the current preference of view-on-demand and/or binge-watching, they are having better success with their shows (and to be fair, they also have a better focus on quality).

I said previously that I expected to start seeing signs of the bubble bursting or at least starting to deflate by the time 2017 rolled around (though the number of sci fi and fantasy shows continues to increase), and the latest tally may suggest that is happening for the non-streaming channels.  There is an iron economic law that the numbers can’t go up for ever, and perhaps that is kicking in now with television production.  This slight dip for the broadcast nets and cable channels is not a definite indicator, though, and we will have to see how things progress next year.  But that bubble has to burst at some point, and these latest numbers could suggest that is beginning for the networks still heavily tied to the old model of television viewing.

One thought on “Is Peak TV Finally Starting to Slow Down? At Least for the Broadcast and Cable Channels?

  1. Y.Whateley

    The fact that on-demand and streaming services seem to be able to afford more and more new shows year after year, while cable and especially broadcast TV appear to have been struggling, kind of suggests that viewing habits have been changing a lot over the last 15 years.

    The biggest take-aways here seem to be:

    1) Perhaps broadcast television needs to just drop out of the scripted TV business and do what it’s been doing best in the internet era: providing local news, game shows, reality shows, talk shows, and infomercials for the handful of people left out there who don’t have internet access or cell phones. Broadcast television can sort of think of itself as AM Radio for the 21st Century….

    2) Cable needs to figure out what it’s good for in the years to come, or it’s going to have a pretty hard time justifying its existence in a world where online streaming services are better able to cater to the viewing habits of modern viewers.

    3) The old-fashioned ratings system shows every sign that it’s completely incapable of keeping up with the times and advances in technology. The Nielsen ratings scheme is basically a buggy-whip business, and a peculiar relic of the dawn of television in the last century, really only kept alive by advertisers who have had almost as much trouble keeping up with the times.


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