“There is simply too much television,” Landgraf said in his TCA speech last summer, predicting that a decline will begin after 2016. That won’t happen, Landgraf admitted today. Original scripted series climbed from 389 to 419 series in 2015. Based on a 6% year-to-year increase for the first six months of this year, the number will grow to 430-450 in 2016 and reach or slightly exceed 500 in 2017, he said.
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.”
“I’m NOT saying that I believe we are in a bubble which is going to pop, causing us to go from 500+ scripted series to half that number. Rather, I think we are ballooning into a condition of oversupply which will at some point slowly deflate, perhaps from 500+ shows to 400 or a little less than that.”
Landgraf analyzed data on TV budgets and viewership to explain why the continuous growth is unsustainable.
He said that the price for making and marketing an hour of television has gone up 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 quintile (if you own it), but there just has to be a whole lot 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 Netflix’s,” he said. Since Netflix announced that it is spending $6 billion on original programming, that means 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.
While Landgraf has been critical of Netflix over the years, FX recently licensed The People v. OJ Simpson to the streaming giant. Landgraf praised Netflix for giving FX brand recognition for its programming, something he had complained about in the past. “Ultimately, running a business is a practical process as much as it is a philosophical one,” he said. “It was an unprecedented deal.” He noted that the sale made financial sense for the studios and profit participants behind the show.