TV & Streaming

Audiences love originals. Why aren’t streamers greenlighting more of them?

Original scripted series and their advertising opportunities are on the decline as companies look to cut costs and be more selective about projects.
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Emily Parsons

5 min read

When FX’s Shōgun premiered in February, it was described as a limited series. But the show, an adaptation of the novel by the same name, immediately found a huge audience, becoming FX parent company Disney’s No. 1 general entertainment series internationally and receiving critical acclaim. To fans’ delight, the series has been renewed for a second season.

The success of Shōgun isn’t a new one in Hollywood; series like HBO’s House of the Dragon, whose second season just debuted, and The Last of Us have long delivered big audiences for TV networks and, in some cases, their advertisers. Those kinds of success stories, though, may be getting rarer: original content production in streaming is slowing down.

In 2023, 516 adult original scripted series were greenlit across domestic cable, streaming, and broadcast services, as opposed to 600 in 2022, FX Chairman John Landgraf said at the Television Critics Association press tour earlier this year. That’s also lower than the number of scripted series greenlit in 2019 (532) and 2021 (559).

There are several factors at play that are affecting the slowdown, including financial pressures to keep costs contained and last year’s actors’ and writers’ strikes, which temporarily reduced output. But for better or for worse, the golden age of television seems to be squarely past us, despite the benefits original programming can have, like attracting and retaining consumers.

“The risk tolerance for big swings has gone way down,” Paul Furia, head of content and creative packaging at agency Media by Mother, told Marketing Brew. “Doing more with less is…the norm now.”

The proof is in the pudding

Why are originals valuable to streamers in the first place? First, they are key to bringing in new signups, according to Christofer Hamilton, an industry insights manager at the market research firm Parrot Analytics. Whether they are films or TV series, originals can deliver big audiences: the first and second seasons of the Netflix show Bridgerton were both on the streamer’s top 10 most popular English-language TV show list at the end of June, and the show’s most recent season was watched for a whopping 3.1 billion minutes in its first full week of availability on the service, according to Nielsen, making it the No. 1 streaming original the week of June 14.

More new content means more opportunities for advertisers to target a variety of audiences, Hamilton said, especially originals that appeal to more niche audiences and can help advertisers reach certain demographics.

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Originals are arguably more relevant to some streamers than others: Netflix’s originals US platform demand share was almost 37% in Q1 2024, according to a report from Parrot Analytics that estimates demand by assessing data like public posting and active consumption.

Some streamers are using their international footprints to beef up the number of originals they provide to customers. “Amazon and Netflix are really the most global platforms, because they are producing a ton of original content in markets around the world,” Hamilton said. “It just so happens [that] it’s available in the US. They’re focusing on producing original content in other markets, and that’s making the catalog available to US subscribers a lot more international.”

With that said, other platforms, like Hulu (where FX’s Shōgun is available), tend to have less original content compared to other streamers, according to Cole Strain, VP and head of R&D at the TV technology and measurement company Samba TV.

Less is more?

The industry-wide dip in original content comes as streamers face tighter budgets, Furia said.

“The market environment is just less forgiving right now,” Hamilton told us. And overall, the streaming industry is maturing: While before, streamers were focused on adding as many new subscribers as possible, now they’re more focused on profitability, Furia said.

While there may be less new original content on streaming platforms, consumer appetite for fresh content still remains. One way streamers have responded is by leaning into licensing and finding ways to give subscribers new-to-them content. Whether it’s films or TV shows, licensed content can also bring the audiences platforms and advertisers crave, like the USA Network show Suits, which Netflix began streaming last year and which viewers watched for a total of 57.7 billion minutes in 2023.

“When a film like Oppenheimer comes out or a film like Despicable Me comes out…it’ll go on Peacock for four months, but after that, it will go on either Netflix or Amazon, then it will come back to Peacock,” Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said at the MoffettNathanson Media, Internet, & Communications conference in May. “You can create value at different destinations along that windowing journey.”

At the end of the day, though, hits are the most valuable currency.

“No one remembers what AMC was before Mad Men,” Furia said, “and no one remembers what FX was before The Shield.”

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