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Are we approaching "Peak TV"?


The original scripted series universe will continue to expand a little longer than previously thought, FX Networks CEO John Landgraf said in his semi-annual State of the Industry address at TCA.

As can be expected, the growth is being driven by SVOD services, primarily Netflix, which currently has 71 adult, English-language scripted series, according to FX estimates, plus dozens of kids and foreign-language fare that is carried in the U.S.

“When I pointed out the Peak TV phenomenon at the Summer TCA last year, I wrongly predicted that we’d hit the peak in 2015 or 2016,” Landgraf said. “It now seems clear that, at a minimum, the peak will be in calendar 2017–and there is enough inertial momentum here that we could well see the growth trend carrying over into the 2018 calendar year. Though I was wrong in my estimate of the timing—I don’t think I understood at this point last year that Netflix was going to try and compete with the entire MVPD system and all of its channels on a global basis rather than just, say, match the output of HBO— I WILL STILL stick by my prediction that we are going to hit a peak in the scripted series business within the next two and a half years- and then see a decline—by calendar ’19 at the latest.”

He analyzed data on TV budgets and viewership to explain why the continuous growth is unsustainable.

Landgraf that the price for making and marketing an hour of television has gone about 20% in the past 5 years, to $4-$5 million an hour. “You need a robust monetization to be profitable,” he said.

He cited data that the top 20% of scripted series average 10.5 million viewers, the second 4.6 million, while the bottom two average 1.1 million and 380,000, respectively.

“There is a really big, big difference,” Landgraf said. “You can pay for something in the first, second, and maybe third quinter (if you own it), but there just has to be of a whole ton of shows that are losing a ton of money,” he said.

Another reason that Netflix, the biggest driver of original series growth, would have to slow down — “They can’t double again and double again and again because the entire surface of the planet will be covered by Netflix shows in 20 years,” Landgraf quipped.

Still, “there is more great TV than any time in history,” he acknowledged. However, “I also believe that there is so much U.S. television, we have lost much of the thread of a coherent, collective conversation about what is good, what is very good and what is great.”

Landgraf also provided some info about FX and HBO’s programming budgets. “Our programming budget is approximately one-third of HBO’s and about one-sixth of Nelflix’s,” he said. Since Netflix announced that it is spending $6 billion on original programming, that mens that FX is spending about $1 billion and HBO about $3 billion.

Landgraf touted the advantages of a “uniquely personal”, hands-on, detail-oriented approach to developing and producing TV shows that can only be done on a small scale (FX has 14 original series and the highest that it could go is 20-22, Landgraf said) vs. industrial-type production that focuses on volume.

Addressing Netflix’s fast growing clout (The streaming service now offers more than 20% of the original scripted programming on U.S. TV), Landgraf spoke of Silicon Valley monopolies, citing companies with a dominant market position like Google.

“I think it is particularly bad for storytellers and our culture if one company will be able to seize 40% of storytelling,” he said.

Personally, I have gotten more selective in what I watch because I really don’t want to spend all my free time watching TV. I’m sure I’ve let some good shows slip by the wayside but something has to give.

I am really surprised some cable channels still exist though that may be down to bundling. But even then, viewership has to be small and their margins narrow to continue on. I think a contraction in channels will go hand in hand with the reduction in programming. If those few shows are the reason people are watching the channel and they go away because it is too expensive, what chance does the channel have to keep viewers?

I think a Big Crunch is coming with television though I’m not sure how soon it will occur…



Hulu put the first nail in the coffin. Pretty soon, all those “free” services will vanish into a chaotic mess of providers. The content will be horribly inconsistent. Advertisers will start dying off in droves from sheer frustration.

Quietly, broadcast stations build content. Somehow they remain free, something about access to news. It keeps getting more expensive to live. Something about $1,400 a month in Denver for 2 “bedrooms” and a bathroom. People decide that they can be entertained for free, which is a good thing, for soon we shall be squeezed for every activity.

First consolidation, then implosion.
All in slow motion!


If we’re in peak TV then why is there only like 3 good shows going at any one time?


Peak TV was in the 70s. It’s been all downhill since then.


There’s still so much awful crap out there that I wouldn’t mind a bit of a cropping.

I think overall, the quality of TV has improved, and we’re not going back on that. Audiences are just too aware of it.


Because your taste is strange, Robert! Straaaaaaaaange!

What are the three shows you like at the moment?


This is a market share play. Netflix don’t really give a crap about making money from shows, they just want subscribers. They have about 70% of broadband households, which means they need to sell more broadband then more households. They have 33 million subscribers worldwide, but they’ll be aiming for 100 million over the next 10 years.

Because TV has a rating system and advertising dollars are set by ratings, it’ll certainly get to a point where the dollars are becoming too low on traditional TV. More and more companies have TV advertising budgets though in an increasingly competitive market so there’ll always be growth. The growth in the car industry, the entertainment industry and so on mean there’s decades to come of increasing advertising spend. And networks will always be creating new content to boost their viewership.

I find the idea of peak anything to be a bit simplistic. The market will grow, share will be mixed around, but there won’t be an actual decline.


Oh there’s none I like at the moment, I assumed there was somebody who liked six and averaging it out I got three.

To be clear I am not talking about stuff that is in between seasons and will take four years for the next one, like Louis and Fargo.

Edit- wait I forgot there is a season of Steve Brule on right now. That’s the best show on television.


Yep, I think this is it. I think there’s a lot more about these days, and a lot more good stuff (which obviously makes it harder to follow all the good stuff), but I don’t see that as being a reason why it won’t continue to go in that direction for a good while yet, especially while competition is still reasonably healthy.

Netflix and Amazon will probably slow down a bit at some point (and we’re already seeing smaller newcomers like the Playstation Network starting to reassess whether they want to continue producing original content), but I don’t see any reason why we can’t continue to see growth.


I think there will be a bit of a retraction to be honest. Not a collapse but there is a lot of money being thrown into TV shows, many of them very good, but I don’t know if there’s a sustainable model for them all down the road. It’s a bit ‘.com bubble’, the internet carried on and did great but a lot of people without substance fell by the wayside.

Powers is a great example, it’s almost unwatched even on this board of geeks. Netflix had had a huge global expansion in the past 6 months, going from a handful of countries to well over 100 so have an enormous well of new revenue. Amazon, I have my doubts, I don’t think most people have heard of their shows outside Transparent.


Don’t forget they have the ex-Top Gear show coming up too. They seem to have bet a lot on that.

They also seem to have a handful of other shows that have got a reasonable amount of traction, like Man In The High Castle (which was advertised heavily, here at least).


They do but I think it’s a bit of a fool’s errand unless they surprise us all like Netflix with a grand global expansion. Top Gear is huge because of its global reach, even at its peak it was rarely a UK top 10 show.


So long as advertising money continues to increase the budgets are there for TV shows. Only a recession could cause that fund to decrease, even then it’s only temporary. I’m not sure if the internet has taken some dollars away from TV, or if internet has instead caused advertising budgets to be increased.

Playstation just didn’t have enough content to get into the game. You’re just about full with 3 at most - like with premium cable having HBO, Showtime and Starz (Cinemax are in there too but they’re a smaller player). Netflix and Amazon will dominate the space, but it’s good to see the established companies pushing back as streaming isn’t exclusive technology. HBO though I think are missing the boat a little, they’re not responding quick enough.

Amazon really need their own Daredevil or House of Cards. I expect they’ll get it soon, right now most of their content isn’t must watch. The best thing they’ve done is Catastrophe, which is funny as hell. There’s 54 million Prime members, so it’s higher than Netflix in terms of subscribers. And we know Amazon doesn’t care about profits, they exist now to consume everything.


Right now, HBO’s biggest problem is finding its next Game of Thrones to keep subscribers and drawn in new ones. While Westworld looks good, I’m not sure it will have the draw of GoT.


And Catastrophe isn’t an exclusive original - it was a Channel 4 show in the UK first. I agree it’s great though (if a bit too close to home at times!).

It works the other way around too, they carry stuff like Preacher and Lucifer in the UK.


Is there any evidence it is? Many of these producers don’t use advertising. Most reports I’v heard say it is going down.

Catastrophe is really a Channel 4 show, with Amazon distribution in the US. Saying that I think that is an area where it makes sense. If you share budgets and distribution between countries you can make more from the same outlay.


I read an interview with Sam Esmail where he said he offered Mr. Robot to HBO, and they passed on it. And now it is considered GoT’s biggest threat in the upcoming Emmy competition. Which makes me wonder how hard HBO is looking for that next blockbuster.


HBO is probably passed on Mr. Robot because it wasn’t “epic” enough and while it is a critical hit, I don’t think it would have been the ratings draw they were looking for. Hell, Season 2 is dropping in the ratings hard.

If ABC weren’t already doing Once Upon A Time, I would have said they should go after the comic book property Fables. It has the width and breadth that would work well and they could mine that property for 10+ years. HBO really needs to back the money truck up to Brian K Vaughn and bring Saga to TV. They property would be a great fit for HBO.


I think that’s the thing with amazon right there. Their video branch doesn’t need to make a lot of money of and in itself, the important thing is to keep their customers embroiled in prime video, prime music, prime products all the way. The day they start producing robot companions, you know you won’t have to interact with anyone but amazon at all anymore.


Two thoughts here:

  1. Michael Lombardo was still HBO president. And he did make some wrong choices that brought him to step down. Who knows if Casey Bloys would have accepted, he has to take bold steps to make HBO rise again (even if: “Night of”? Gooood stuff).

  2. Mr. Robot on USA Network wouldn’t have been the same on HBO. I’ll explain better: even if the show had been identical, HBO brand sprinkles this “serious and cool” vibe to all of its tv series. So Mr. Robot on HBO could have been much more relevant and get more buzz (to be clear: I think that show is simply amazing). Counter example? Think of Game on Thrones on Starz.
    Brands count.
    And, back to point 1, top executives make mistakes.

IMHO, of course.