Have we reached the peak of peak TV?

Investment in new scripted programming is declining, according to new data, and some TV execs say a slowdown is ahead.
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Illustration: Dianna “Mick” McDougall, Photos: Getty Images, Apple, Hulu, HBO, ABC

· 4 min read

The so-called golden age of television could be on track to lose some of its luster in the coming months. You don’t have to take our word for it—listen to John Landgraf, the chairman of FX Content and FX Productions, who coined the term “peak TV” in 2015.

“In August, I said I believed that 2022 would finally mark the peak of scripted US series, and that is still my bet—while noting with humility that I have been wrong on this prediction twice before,” Landgraf said last week at the Television Critics Association’s biannual press tour. “I think we have a strong indication that we’re going to start to see a decline beginning in 2023.”

Signs of a scripted-series decline, which have also been reported by research firms like Ampere Analysis, come as linear-TV viewership continues to wane and as streaming services like Netflix have shifted to focus on profits. Industrywide belt-tightening may eventually translate to fewer culture-defining scripted TV moments that were once abundant, and with that, fewer opportunities for advertisers.

“I still think we’re going to get those amazing big titles like the Lord of the Rings and the Game of Thrones titles that came out last year,” Hannah Walsh, a research manager at Ampere Analysis, said. “But I think they’ll just happen more infrequently than they used to.”

Hit the brakes?

For years, Landgraf has taken time during appearances at press tours to present FX Research on the state of English-language scripted programming on television. By many measures, 2022 was a great year for the genre:

  • From January 2022 through June 2022, 351 total scripted English-language shows were released  in the US, on pace for a 14% increase compared to the same timeframe in 2021, according to FX Research cited by Landgraf.
  • But output began to slow from July through December, to 2% less than in that same time period a year prior, Landgraf said.
  • Overall, there were an estimated 599 English-language scripted shows released in 2022, according to FX Research. That’s 40 more scripted shows, or about a 7% increase, compared to its data from 2021.
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December data from Ampere Analysis shared with the New York Times found that the number of US adult scripted series that streaming services and TV networks ordered in the second half of 2022 was down 24% compared to the same period in 2021.

“I’m going to go out on a limb and say I think that 599 is the peak,” Landgraf said. “I don’t think you’re going to see that number again. I think it’s going to start to come down.”

Those numbers have also started to come down at FX itself. In 2022, FX released “19 returning series and six one-off programs,” Landgraf said, totaling 25 total scripted series; this year, FX has 23 new and returning shows planned across linear channels and on FX’s hub on streamer Hulu, including new seasons of The Bear and Reservation Dogs. (That count doesn’t include docuseries.)

“I don’t expect we’re going to expand beyond this output,” Landgraf said of 2022. “But as we are proving, even a modest number of shows can make an impact, even in a crowded market, if they are good enough to stand out.”

Make it count

There are other signs that entertainment companies are hitting the brakes on new scripted originals. In 2023, global content expenditure, which includes investment in content for streaming services and linear television, is projected to increase 2% to around $243 billion, the lowest it’s been in more than a decade (excluding the first year of the pandemic), according to Ampere Analysis.

That’s less than a third of the growth seen in 2022, during which global content spend was projected to have increased by 6% to $238 billion. Meanwhile, In Q2 and Q3 of 2022, TV cancellation announcements grew at a faster rate than new show commissions—and more scripted series than unscripted series were canceled through the first three quarters of 2022, per Ampere Analysis.

“The scripted volume of titles has been declining, [and] in replacement of that, we’re seeing more unscripted titles,” Walsh said. “Essentially, it’s because those unscripted titles are typically cheaper to produce.”

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