At the Television Critics Association conference on Tuesday, FX president John Landgraf announced that there will be more than 500 scripted shows on air during the 2016-17 television season — but that number should start to drop by 2019, ending this era of "Peak TV."
"I'm not saying that I believe we are in a bubble which is going to pop, causing us to go from 500 scripted series to half that number," Landgraf said. "Rather, I think we are ballooning into a condition of oversupply, which will at some point slowly deflate, perhaps from 500 shows to 400 or a little less than."
One of the main reasons that the number continues to jump year after year, according to Landgraf, is because of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. The network president took more than a few opportunities to take a jab at Netflix, arguing that the speed at which the service is creating and releasing shows was unsustainable. Landgraf added that even if Netflix could hire thousands of people to keep up the level of production on each of these series, there's no way executives could give the shows the personal attention they need to succeed.
"While there is more great television [now] than at any time in history, audiences are having more trouble than ever distinguishing the great from the merely competent," Landgraf said. "I also believe that there is so much U.S. television we have lost much of the thread of a coherent, collective conversation about what is good, what is very good and what is great."
Landgraf spoke at length about the trends that will affect the industry within the next five years — a direct followup to his infamous speech about the dangers of peak TV at the conference last year — and said one of his biggest concerns is the monopoly Netflix appears to be gunning for.
"Audiences are having more trouble than ever distinguishing the great from the merely competent"
During the president's opening remarks, Landgraf said that the biggest difference between streaming services like Netflix or Hulu and networks like FX was that one makes its decisions based on algorithms and the other did not. Landgraf argued that algorithms can't give a proper reading on what constituts good television, and as a result, those subscribing to services that are algorithm based would ultimately suffer.
"Television shows are not like cars or operating systems, and they are not best made by engineers or coders in the same assembly line manner as consumer products which need to be of uniform size, shape and quality," Landgraf said.
While Landgraf commended Netflix for some of its original series, giving a special shoutout to Aziz Ansari's Master of None, he said that at the rate Netflix was releasing shows, it seems the company cares more about how much television it has and not how great its content is. In many ways, Landgraf added, Netflix's business model reflects its Silicon Valley roots and other companies that operate within the very capitalistic system that promotes and praises monopolies. Landgraf said that like Google, Uber, Airbnb, Facebook and a dozen other companies that owned the majority of their market shares in their industries, Netflix was looking to take over television in a way the industry wasn't used to.
"I think it would be particularly bad if anyone in one company, and I don't care what company that is, if they were able to seize a 40 or 50 or 60 percent market share in storytelling," Landgraf said. "They can't double again and double again and double again because the entire earth's surface would be covered in Netflix shows in 20 years."
Landgraf said that Netflix remains one of the most secretive networks in the industry right now and because of that we'll never know what they're plans are for developing television within the next couple of years. During Amazon's panel at the conference on Sunday, Amazon Studios head Roy Price said that, like Netflix, it was Amazon's main goal to exponentially increase the amount of original series it brought to subscribers. As premium cable, basic cable and broadcast networks get set to air anywhere between 50 and 130 scripted shows between the 2016 and 2017 season, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu will debut more than 180, with no sign of slowing down.
"You could give me all the money in the world, and I still couldn't personally supervise 71 shows and give each series the attention it needed," Landgraf said. "Why are they making so many shows and is it efficient? I couldn't tell you."
As Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have stepped up their game with the number of shows that each network is producing on a regular basis, the broadcast and cable networks have had to do the same. Landgraf said that will come to an end in the next few years, and while he doesn't view it as the bubble bursting, he does see it as the next step. Landgraf argued that from a financial perspective, most networks can not keep up with the $4 million an episode cost on a series that only attracts 380,000 viewers.
"The nature of markets is that they tend to expand and then they tend to consolidate and contract," Landgraf said. "As long as, once that contraction occurs, there are still shows being made, there are still diversity in the voices making them, and there's still a free market where people can sell their ideas, then that's nothing but a positive."