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Peak TV Is Over as 2023 Scripted Series Releases “Crash”

It’s official: Peak TV has peaked. A pair of reports this week from data crunchers Ampere Analysis and Luminate — confirm what the industry has known for a while, that the original content boom has fizzled.

Ampere’s report, published Friday and looking at scripted TV seasons being ordered in the U.S., noted that the volume of U.S. series has nearly halved since 2019. The number of series titles fell to 481 last year, down sharply from the 633 releases in 2022 and 2021 — which Ampere calls the “high watermark” for scripted production, and below even COVID-hit 2020 when there were 510 scripted TV releases in the U.S.

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The report blames a “combination of strike action and a downturn in the original content boom” and notes an “even more precipitous decline” in series orders. “Due to the time lag between series being greenlit and hitting screens,” Ampere notes, “this number is unlikely to rise in 2024.”

“The U.S. scripted boom [has] finally run out of steam,” said Fred Black, a principal analyst at Ampere. “While 2024 will see some level of a bounce back in the content being ordered, many of these titles will be released in 2025, meaning any recovery is likely to be slow going.”

Luminate’s year-end report, released Thursday, looked at scripted and nonscripted programming but came to the same conclusion, noting a total of 1,784 TV programs across all genres and platforms in the U.S. last year, a 21 percent drop on 2022 or nearly 500 fewer shows aired. The figure was even down from that of the pandemic year of 2020, where there were just under 2,000 season and series debuts. Scripted comedy and drama series saw the steepest declines, with 30 percent fewer comedy premieres (134 versus 192) and 25 percent fewer dramas (381 versus 510).

But nonscripted and documentary programming also dipped 20 percent compared to 2022. Animation was the only segment that held steady, with premieres falling by just 7 percent. That’s particularly significant since unscripted and animated series were not as impacted by the SAG-AFTRA strike and most productions were able to continue through the labor dispute. (Luminate is owned by Penske Media Corp., parent company of The Hollywood Reporter).

Ampere points to a change in strategy by the streamers as the main cause of the scripted drop-off, noting that SVOD services released 77 fewer seasons of scripted shows last year, with broadcast networks releasing 55 fewer seasons. Ampere said while broadcast releases have been slowly declining for many years now, the sharp drop last year was largely due to the impact of the strikes and sees some hope for a temporary bounce on the broadcast side as stalled 2023 productions get a mid-season start in January and February, adding to the 2024/2025 fall season.

The report is less optimistic when it comes to the streamers. Ampere notes Netflix cut its releases from 107 in 2022 to just 68 in 2023. Peacock cut its releases by 20 titles, Hulu by 11, Max by nine and Paramount by four. Amazon, Apple and Disney+ all maintained the number of series they released in 2023 compared with 2022, but only Amazon kept up the number of series it ordered, suggesting 2024 will see a decline in U.S. shows across nearly every major streamer.

Global streamers ordered up more shows from outside the U.S. last year — 367 international shows compared to 257 domestic — a figure partially driven by the strikes, but which Ampere says represents the “internationalization” of the world’s TV industry and the “displacement of Hollywood” at its core.

That may be overstated. A counterargument could be that as global streamers gain market share in international territories, they are simply beginning to produce less like U.S. broadcasters and more like local channels — commissioning more homegrown series — in some countries to accommodate national quota regulations. The average budgets for international series are well below that of U.S. shows, so a simple tally of the number of commissions does not accurately reflect the budget the streamers are allotting to U.S. versus global series. And despite the boom in international streaming commissions, non-U.S. global hits such as Netflix’s Squid Game are still the exception to the rule. Some streamers, like Max, have pulled back from international production in the Nordics, Turkey and Central Europe to focus on their more popular U.S. shows.

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