Last year set a record for the number of scripted original series for adults, but the “Peak TV” era probably hasn’t peaked just yet, at least if you ask FX Chairman John Landgraf. (As the television executive who coined the term, Landgraf would be a good person to ask. Then again, he’s made this claim before.)
During an executive session at the Television Critics Association press tour Tuesday, the FX brand’s boss offered some tea-leaf reading about the seemingly never-ending output of more and more TV shows. “2022 will be the high watermark — in other words, that it will mark the peak of the ‘Peak TV’ era,” he said.
Landgraf has been wrong before, and he’s the first to admit that his prediction might be done “foolishly.” But he has data on his side, courtesy of the number-crunchers at FX research.
The first half of 2022 saw 357 scripted series launch across broadcast, cable, and streaming. That’s up 16 percent compared to the same time last year. And last year’s 559 shows set an all-time record, up 13 percent from the COVID-fueled decline in 2020 and up 23 percent from five years earlier.
“Due to the pandemic, getting a true read on where scripted-series output might hit its top has been hard,” Landgraf said. “This year we’ve seen a tidal wave of scripted programming thanks to the bottleneck of COVID-delayed production finally clearing up.”
Back in 2015, speaking to the same audience of TV critics and reporters, Landgraf predicted that the number of scripted series would hit its peak in 2015 or 2016. He amended that the following year when he said he expected the peak to hit in 2019 followed by a decline the next year, when he bemoaned that there was “simply too much television” and warned of “oversupply” and the negative impact of tech monopolies on creativity.
So much has changed since then, including Landgraf’s tenor. Tuesday’s forecast came with no warnings or caveats; he painted it as “sticking my neck out” for some fun. Now, Landgraf’s employer Disney is one of the top streaming players and is tens of millions of subscribers ahead of its legacy competitors.
Disney has 205 million total subscribers across its streaming services, compared to leader Netflix’s 220.67 million subscribers. HBO and HBO Max have 76.8 million subscribers, Paramount has 62 million across its platforms, and Peacock has 28 million monthly active accounts.
“I think all of the major streaming services have now launched, right?” Landgraf said. “I think that process is complete. So in other words, I don’t see new, major purveyors of programming entering the scene as they have been, continuously, over the past decade or more. As a matter of fact, there are some prior purveyors of television programming that are kind of exiting the scene. So in other words, you’re at the point now where you’re not really adding suppliers, though you are, to some extent, subtracting suppliers.”
Streamers have started to cool off from earlier content-spending frenzies. Netflix is instituting belt-tightening after two consecutive quarters of subscriber losses. And Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav says he’s unwilling to overspend just to amass more subscribers.
Landgraf, who previously oversaw FX Networks, now finds himself shepherding original programming under the FX brand, content that premieres either on FX, FXX, or Hulu. “The FX original programming initiative has made a successful transition from primarily feeding linear cable channels to reconstituting itself as a multi-platform brand whose comprehensive streaming home in the U.S. is Hulu,” he said.
Time will tell if Landgraf finally got his Peak TV prediction correct. “It will take a year-and-a-half to find out if I’m right this time or I’ll have to eat crow yet again,” he said.
Tony Maglio contributed reporting.