It’s been a quarter century since cable TV pioneer John Malone coined the concept of a “500-channel universe,” sparking advertising and media industry debate about the implications for the hyper-fragmentation of the world's greatest and most effective mass medium. Twenty-five years later, the “television” universe has exploded into streams of cable, satellite and over-the-top video services that make Malone’s vision of an “information superhighway” look quaint by comparison, but new data suggests that 2018 could be the year we look back on when we entered the 500 scripted TV series universe.
According to an analysis of data from FX Networks published Monday by the equities research team at UBS, there already were 487 scripted original series competing for viewers’ attention in 2017. Based on the recent rate of progression, 2018 should easily surpass 500.
The expansion has been driven by heavy investment from subscription video services such as Netflix and Amazon, which are pacing to spend more than $10 billion and $5 billion, respectively, this year.
The heavy investment by these non-ad-supported viewing options was a major reason why Publicis Chief Growth Officer Rishad Tobaccowala recently projected that the supply of consumer ad impressions will decline as much as 30% over the next five years, as consumers divert their attention to advertising-free environments.
Aside from the obvious implications for advertising -- and ad-supported television programmers -- the rapid expansion in the supply of high-quality programming options could lead to a paradox of choice for consumers and advertisers, alike.
Not surprisingly, analysts expect the hyper-accelerated level of original series investment to taper off due to fundamental economics.
“Beyond 2018, we estimate the arc of cash content growth to slow considerably given the law of large numbers and Netflix's content density & efficiency from several years of heavy investments,” the UBS analysts predict in their report.