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By the Numbers, Too Much TV in 2018 Is Netflix’s Doing (For Better and For Worse)

Tracking the shows that aired last year reveals that the increase in Netflix's stable of original series is massive.

People watching Netflix

People watching Netflix

Courtesy of Netflix

Every year, the FX network PR department releases a report on how much TV is out there, as well as which networks are making the most of it. The numbers are always fascinating for what they say about the state of the industry, especially as the battle between broadcast, cable, and streaming platforms is full of odd twists and turns.

According to this year’s report, in 2018 495 scripted original programs premiered. And of them, 160 debuted on a streaming platform, 146 were on broadcast television, 144 on basic cable, and 45 on pay cable. While FX didn’t break down how many of those streaming programs are on Netflix versus other platforms, there’s another list which has the data on that — one which reveals just how much new content Netflix has unleashed into the world this year.

The TV Shows That Aired in 2018 list, created by this writer, is an annual tradition that began as an informal brainstorming aid. In November 2016, while beginning the process of developing Best of the Year coverage, it seemed it might be helpful to have a basic list of every eligible show, from every potential network, that could be scanned by readers as a way of jogging the memory, especially when it came to shows that aired earlier in the year.

Unfortunately, the sort of simple list I wanted didn’t seem to exist, so I compiled shows from every network and platform on a Google spreadsheet (view the 2016 version here and the 2017 version here). Sharing it publicly meant not only providing a hopefully valuable public service, but also allowing the “wisdom of the crowd” to aid in fact-checking for omissions and errors.

Since the purpose of the list was to brainstorm shows for best-of-year consideration, it was curated to a degree, with things like basic cable reality shows and a very large percentage of all childrens’ programming omitted. But shows like “Late Night With Seth Meyers” and “Last Week Tonight” were script-driven, so were kept in, as was a lot of broadcast content that was technically scripted, even if it was very unlikely to make it into a Top 10.

It’s a subjective list, but one that owes a great deal of thanks to the aforementioned “wisdom of the crowd.” (An important aspect of maintaining a list like this is to regard the people who yell “HOW DARE YOU FORGET ‘BROOKLYN NINE-NINE’!” as helpful new friends who simply want the list to be as accurate as possible). But even with the limited amount of curation that happens, the numbers remain shocking — specifically in what they reveal about Netflix’s ongoing expansion.

The list has unsurprisingly gotten longer, year after year, increasing from 374 shows overall in 2016 to 555 shows in 2018 — a 48.3 percent increase. But it’s when the numbers break down across platforms that Netflix’s role in that increase becomes clear.

For most of prestige TV’s notable platforms, the increase in series from 2017 to 2018 is relatively low or even flat: Both Hulu and FX basically stayed the same, while Amazon and HBO barely increased their numbers from 2018.

But then there’s Netflix. In 2016, the TV Shows That Aired list noted 31 original series under consideration. In 2017, that increased to 59 shows — almost double the amount. And 2018? Including a fair amount of international and high-quality unscripted series like “Queer Eye” and “Salt Fat Acid Heat,” the total comes to 151 original series. That’s a 387 percent increase in shows over the last two years, just on Netflix in the United States.

Netflix has hardly made it a secret, the way in which it planned to dramatically increase its spending on new content, potentially reaching $13 billion in 2018. But seeing the numbers makes a huge difference, especially when you consider that it’s going billions of dollars into debt to fund these productions.

Meanwhile, according to some reporting, Netflix doesn’t actually own many of the shows that are most popular with subscribers. In looking forward to 2019, there’s no indication that the number of series Netflix releases will decline in any way, but there’s no guarantee as to how many of them will actually get watched — and how many of them will appear on the TV Shows That Aired in 2019 list, reminding people that they once existed.

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