UPDATED: Six months after FX CEO John Landgraf opened the “Too Much TV” discussion with his state of the union speech at the summer TCA, he was back at the winter press tour with an update. Just last month, FX put out a study noting that the number of original scripted TV series had hit an all-time high in 2015 — 409. He today said that since then, the count had been adjusted further up to 412.
“Counting TV shows is like counting lemmings,” Landgraf said. “You can’t even count the number of TV shows accurately. Hoping they won’t run off a cliff and into an ocean.”
He updated his August prediction that “2016 or 2017 will represent peak TV in America, and then we will see a decline.” Landgraf said today that he thinks the number of original TV series would see another increase in 2016. Beyond that, “I don’t see a collapse but a contraction,” he said. “There still is going to be a lot of TV for the foreseeable future.”
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Landgraf, who had been vocal in his demand for ratings information on streaming series, was asked about the NBC presentation earlier this week that revealed viewership data for some series on VOD platforms. Landgraf was skeptical about the data released by the NBC research guru, calling it “directional more than anything else,” adding that “it doesn’t feel rigorous.”
Still, he reiterated his call for Netflix to release viewership information on its shows, calling the lack thereof “ridiculous.” “I can understand the debate of secrecy sparked by Edward Snowden. There’s probably some data, some information that is a national security issue so the apparatus can keep secret. I don’t feel the same way about TV data. It’s like sports scores, it should be public. It will be at some point.”
Landgraf spoke again of the state of TV. “The TV ecosystem continues to undergo a rapid and dynamic change,” he said, noting that “the hazy outline of the television future is becoming more clear.”
He was frank about FX’s linear ratings woes (the network was down -13% year-to-year), noting the +19% spike for sibling FXX. He highlighted that FX was the first network to abandon Live+same day ratings reporting, a move that has been followed by other nets. He called 2015 a very strong year for FX “by the ultimate measure — creative excellence,” citing a survey the network made that puts its shows among the top performers in 2015 best series lists.
He also broke protocol a bit by congratulating a slew of other networks and services that are streaming successful series, including HBO, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Amazon, USA (Mr. Robot) and Lifetime (UnReal).
The proliferation of content and new original programming players with deep pockets have made competing for high-profile projects more competitive than ever.
“It’s Moneyball,” Landgraf said, using a baseball analogy. “We’re competing against payrolls — a la the Oakland As and the Yankees — that are three to four times ours.” He cited the Aziz Ansari comedy Master of None and historical drama The Crown as projects FX was outbid for by Netflix.
Netflix has been aggressively buying content and saw its stock price sore in 2015 despite not turning a profit, Landgraf noted. Though FX’s earnings are not broken out on the 21st Century Fox balance sheet, “FX’s earnings alone are many, many times higher than Netflix’s globally,” Landgraf said. “This is something that legacy companies have been feeling. Because there’s a perception that’s very carefully cultivated by Silicon Valley that essentially they’re going to take over everything, they don’t have to be held to the same standards in terms of earnings because you’re buying the future. So, we have to return a profit to our shareholders and our board of directors and we have to grow that profit year in and year out while nobody pays attention to the profitability of many of our competitors.”
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