Hollywood 2016: Original Scripted TV Series at a Peak

Last year, F/X CEO John Landgraf predicted that the number of original scripted series on TV and streaming would peak in 2015 or 2016, but he now says that “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.” Landgraf said Tuesday at the Television Critics Association summer press tour: “Though I was wrong in my estimate of the timing, I don’t think I understood 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 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 2019 at the latest,” he said.

The reason for that eventual decline, according to Landgraf, stems from the rising cost of making television and the increasing difficulty of monetizing it. He estimated that the average cost of producing and marketing an hour of television is now $4 million, up 20% from five years ago. “Therefore you have to have really robust monetization for it to be profitable,” he said.

Citing more FX internal research, he estimated that while the top 20% of scripted shows on television average 10.5 million viewers, the bottom 20% average only 380,000.

Landgraf predicted that 2016 would see roughly 500 original scripted series on television — up from 419 in 2015. Most of that growth will come from digital streaming services, particularly from Netflix, which, according to FX, has ordered 71 original scripted series so far this year — more than HBO, Showtime, Starz and FX combined. And that’s not counting foreign-language and children’s shows. When Netflix competitors Hulu and Amazon are factored in alongside smaller services such as Crackle, Seeso and Vimeo, the anticipated number of English-language original series for streaming services this year rises to more than 130.

By comparison, Landgraf predicts an output of roughly 150 originals this year for broadcast, 50 for pay cable and 180 for basic cable.

That volume of television, Landgraf said, is making it too difficult for audiences to differentiate great TV from bad TV.

“While there is more great television than at any time in history, audiences are having more trouble than ever distinguishing the great from the merely competent,” he said. “I do this for a living, I have a pretty good memory, and I certainly can’t come close to keeping track of it all.”

Though Landgraf insisted that he does not anticipate that the current content bubble will pop, causing a sudden, radical reduction in the number of scripted series.

“Rather, I think we are ballooning into a condition of oversupply which will at some point slowly deflate, perhaps from 500-plus shows to 400 or a little less than that,” he said.