Someday, like next year, there will be less good stuff to watch. You may have heard that shocker, uttered by John Landgraf, the FX Networks CEO, to the nation’s television critics who mysteriously all arrive in Los Angeles at the same time every year.
“There is is simply too much television,” Landgraf said. “My sense is that 2015 and 2016 will represent a peak in U.S. TV, and afterward, we’ll see a decline.”
By “television”, Landgraf is talking about the whole ball of wax--broadcast, cable and streaming video, including Netflix and Hulu and Crackle and Amazon.
The growth of scripted programming--much of it very good content--is pretty awesome. In 2012, there were 288 scripted series out there. In 2013, that went up to 339, and up to 371 in 2014. FX expects that by the end of this year that figure will hit 400.
Online is no small part of that explosion, but it is the smallest part. Last year, those streaming content providers mentioned above churned out 27 programs. In 2009, there were only two streaming series, four by 2010, eight by 2011' and 15 by 2012.
So it almost doubled by last year, and will surpass 35 in 2015. And we aren’t counting children’s shows.
Landgraf is talking about how many programs content distributors can support financially. But he’s also talking about quality, and one goes with the other, usually.
In commercially supported, Nielsen-rated television, junk leaves because people don’t watch it and advertisers don’t want to spend on the losers.
For online pay-content providers, the hangman is even more absolute. It's the subscriber. Netflix has to stay near the quality of “House of Cards,” while Amazon has to keep putting out shows that come pretty close to the awesomeness of “Transgender.” Hulu, entering the original content business in a big way right now, can’t afford missteps.
Because even though it seems clear that “originals” aren’t necessarily more exciting to subscribers than a good roster of movies and past television episodes, those content providers need groundbreaking series to establish a marketable reputation for quality and innovation. Everybody has movies.
You disengage from bad TV by pressing a button on the remote. It’s slightly harder to “change the channel” with online content--it involves credit cards and such--but it’s pretty easy to join up somewhere else.
So when Netflix gets criticism for signing Adam Sandler to a four-feature contract (and sees that his ”Pixels” theatrical release is not doing much box office), it’s not just those Sandler projects that start getting scary. Less than pitch perfect has got to become a concern.
HBO and Showtime went toe-to-toe for years. Now they, and all the online others, all looking for a consumer’s $20 a month.
As Ooyala points out in a study, experts that it sought out also predict 10-20 niche online channels will be operating by 2018, each grabbing 100,000 subscribers.
It was one thing when consumers paid for 200 channels from their cable or satellite operator that they really didn’t want, because you also didn’t have many options. Now consumers’ options have options. There’s nothing but options. Streamers, beware.