Well, that didn’t take long. Peak TV crested yet another mountaintop in a seemingly endless range,, up 7 percent in 2019 to 532 scripted series. That’s according to numbers compiled annually by FX and announced by the cabler’s CEO, John Landgraf, at the winter TV Critics Association meetings.
That number represents a more than doubling in the past decade of the number of scripted series, feature-length programs and limited series on broadcast, cable and streaming services.
And of course, that’s the era when TV went from a cable-dominated landscape largely delivered over set-top boxes to an increasingly Internet-delivered world of video on demand, while the legacy broadcast and cable networks continue to offer some portion of new programming as well.
Perhaps one of the crazier aspects of the 2019 number is what it doesn’t include: reality/unscripted shows, daytime dramas (what’s left of them), and shows primarily meant for children. The New York Times suggested if all those other kinds of shows were lumped into Landgraf’s number, it might top 1,000 last year.
Landgraf first started toting up the scripted shows back in those far-off and gentler days of 2014, when Netflix and Amazon were just starting to create original shows. By 2015, Landgraf was already saying, “This is simply too much television.”
As it is, this year’s Peak TV figure is also a number that almost certainly will be surpassed again in 2020. Come April and May, streaming services Peacock, HBO Max and Quibi will launch. And Disney+ and Apple TV+ will have the whole year instead of just two months to keep filling out their offerings on top of the relative handful of shows they debuted around their November 2019 launches.
Other incumbent services have been ramping up their program offerings too, to attract and keep the subscribers they’ll need to survive in the coming battles for eyeballs. CBS All Access is using the TCA meetings to showcase one of its handful of Star Trek shows, in this case, Star Trek: Picard.
The network learned the hard way after it initially launched that having only one new Star Trek series was an invitation for subscribers to sign on, binge, and leave. Now, the network has five Star Trek shows in development or production, and plans to have one or another of them available to fans at least 10 months of the year.
Landgraf said he too expects the numbers to keep rising in the near term, though he termed the ever-upward trajectory of productions “just bananas.”
Perhaps the better question to ask is what happens when we get on the other side of the mountain? That probably won’t arrive until we’ve had a proper shakeout of lesser cable networks and some inadequately capitalized lesser streaming services.
Or the battle may just shift to the international markets, already the place where Hollywood’s studios make 70 percent of their movie box office. It can’t be too far-fetched to expect a similar split years in the future for online video delivery too.
Netflix executives say the idea of Peak TV comes from an analog-era way of thinking, of scarcity dictated by the amount of time a group of networks could fill 24 hours a day, seven days a week with broad-appeal programming and enough ads to pay for it all and make a profit.
But in an era where Netflix (and Amazon and an increasing number of other providers) operate in close to 200 countries, six continents, dozens of languages and a bewildering array of viewer interests and tastes, not to mention distribution platforms, climbing that mountain like Sisyphus.
Tomorrow they’ll be rolling another programming rock up the mountainside, and again the next day, and the next, and the next. That should continue at least until we get a strike this spring or summer from the Writers Guild and SAG-AFTRA. Now won’t that be an interesting time?