Why Peak TV Is About to Enter a Bear Market

FX's John Landgraf said the scripted television landscape is changing

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FX chairman of content and productions John Landgraf, who coined the phrase “peak TV” back in 2015, believes the industry has indeed peaked.

In 2022, Television output increased to 599 scripted series—the most of all time, according to FX’s annual tally. And it’s no longer sustainable.

“I think we have a strong indication that we’re going to start to see a decline in the beginning of 2023,” Landgraf said during his annual executive session at the 2023 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour in Pasadena, Calif.

Last year saw a 7% year-over-year increase in scripted originals, but FX’s research found the number of new series decreased in the second half of the year, dropping by 2%.

“In August [Summer 2022 TCA Press Tour], I said it would be the 2020s you would find the market peak of scripted series TV series, and that is still my bet while noting with humility that I’ve been wrong on this prediction twice before,” Landgraf said.

For an example of the downward trend, look no further than FX’s programming.

In 2022, FX had 19 returning programs and six one-off series. In 2023, FX will broadcast 23 series in total.

Despite having fewer series, it’s a quality-over-quantity story for FX. The company’s 2023 lineup includes Season 2 of The Bear, Season 3 of Reservation Dogs and the limited series Shogun, which will be one of FX’s biggest-scale series yet.

FX content is safe… for now

The network (and its content on Hulu) had one of its best years in 2022, with Welcome to Wrexham becoming the most-watched unscripted series in FX history, and the highly-acclaimed first season of The Bear drawing 140,000 concurrent streams of its eight episodes the morning after its release.

But Landgraf expects the industry to experience a “narrowing” of the streaming world, helping explain why streaming services like HBO Max have been yanking licensed and older content.

FX currently doesn’t have “specific plans” to make any similar moves. Still, Landgraf said the company “wouldn’t rule anything out,” pointing to the development of new technologies that have upended how networks create and distribute programs.

“The internet removes constraints that used to exist on volume,” said Landgraf, adding, “You had a limited amount of shelf space. It’s figuring it out again. You just can’t take this infinite amount of money and dump it on something. It gets stale.”

Media companies are also experiencing difficulties with user interfaces and discoverability while juggling thousands of pieces of content.

“I think the industry as a whole is going through this reckoning and realizing you can’t simplify as much… we’re in this period of radical transformation,” Landgraf said.

Shifting marketing budgets

As the streaming industry continues to evolve, the way FX and Landgraf market new series has shifted as well.

“You obviously can’t afford to make 599 television shows and market them all like The Bear or House of the Dragon,” he said. “Our whole marketing budget has changed.”

Previously, FX would’ve put 90% of its budget into the premiere of a show, but now less than 50% is focused on the first episode, with Landgraf saying “every aspect” of the company’s marketing plans had to be restructured.

An emphasis on diversity

Since scripted series may decline in 2023, Landgraf worries that the narrowing of the window could negatively impact diverse voices and storytelling as companies may program for the widest available audience.

“If you’re just going for the biggest meat of the audience, the majority, you tend to program to white men,” he said, calling scripted programs that appeal to men a boon.

“I’d like to leave FX and I’d like to leave this industry with [diversity] being normal business,” he said.

Landgraf called the last few years of peak TV “a really positive benefit” regarding diverse storytelling.

“A lot of new people got opportunities in the industry. So then you worry when there’s a narrowing process, who loses opportunity,” Landgraf said. “Is it the last person that got an opportunity, and does that not favor diverse voices?”

The FX chairman said outlets must decide “purposefully” to speak to other demographics and praised the DEI work done at Disney, FX’s parent company.

“[Disney] is doing that everywhere across its enterprise,” he said. “It’s trying to reach everyone in America.”

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