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“Peak TV” Has Officially Peaked

The television landscape, long heralded as the era of “Peak TV,” has officially reached its zenith, with recent data indicating a significant shift. In a startling development, the FX cable network reported a 14% decline in the number of scripted television series aired or streamed in the United States last year, totaling 516 series compared to the previous year’s figures. This marks only the second downturn in at least fifteen years and represents the most substantial decrease recorded, underscoring a clear departure from the continuous growth that has defined the TV industry over the last decade.

This decline is perhaps the most concrete evidence yet of a slowdown that industry executives have anticipated for over a year. Television’s golden age, characterized by an explosion in both the quantity and quality of programming, appears to be waning. Major studios began to significantly reduce show orders in mid-2022, around the same time Wall Street began to question the sustainability of the entertainment sector’s aggressive spending on new series production.

Adding to the industry’s challenges were the strikes by screenwriters and actors last year, the first concurrent walkout by both unions since 1960. This industrial action brought scripted production to a halt for months, erasing the entire fall lineup for scripted network television. The repercussions of these strikes are expected to dampen the release schedule of new shows well into 2024, indicating a prolonged impact on the industry’s output.

The recent figure of 516 series, though a decline, still ranks as the fourth-highest year for scripted series production since FX began tracking these numbers, following only behind 2022, 2021, and 2019. This suggests that, despite the downturn, viewers continue to have a vast array of viewing options, albeit potentially overwhelming in scope.

Reflecting on the evolution of television, in 2009, a mere 210 scripted shows were aired, marking a modest increase from the early years of the decade. This number experienced a steady rise, surging notably after Netflix’s foray into original series production in 2012. By 2015, the industry saw 422 scripted shows, leading FX executive John Landgraf to coin the term “Peak TV,” encapsulating the burgeoning era of streaming television.

However, 2022’s record of 600 scripted shows now stands as the apex of this trend, with the industry witnessing a pullback in investment from virtually every studio. Notable exits include Quibi’s short-lived venture, along with Google and Facebook’s retraction from aggressive investments in scripted television. Moreover, traditional broadcast and cable networks, including USA, TBS, and Comedy Central, are also scaling back on scripted content.

As the industry navigates this changing landscape, executives predict a continued decline in the number of new shows. This adjustment period signals a significant transformation in how television content is produced, consumed, and valued, marking the end of an era and the beginning of a new chapter in the story of Peak TV.