Although critics have declared that America’s entering a new “Golden Age” of television, it’s not coming up roses for television networks.
At a recent media event presented by the Television Critics Association, John Landgraf of FX Networks addressed the growing number of offerings available today. While television has become a significantly more respected art form, attracting talent like never before, there are real concerns that audiences are becoming too fragmented to continue to support the expansion that scripted programming is experiencing.
There were 211 television shows made in 2009; 2014 saw 371 split between traditional networks, cable networks and online services. This year, Landgraf predicts the number of shows produced will top 400, almost double of just six years ago. He’s concerned that this glut of programming means that viewers are less content with offerings and more willing to hop between programs without giving any of them much of a chance.
“What I’ve seen for years and years and years, when we go out and talk to audiences, is that television is less precious to them because there’s so much of it. Television episodes, television shows, television programmers are all a dime a dozen,” Landgraf said.
A Glut of Programming, or a Bounty?
Although FX’s Landgraf is certain that too much television programming is a huge problem for the industry as a whole, other industry experts disagree. Marti Noxon, showrunner for programs like “UnREAL” and “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” (appearing on Lifetime and Bravo, respectively), believes that the tides are changing for television and the fragmentation taking place is creating more audiences for specific messages.
“[Five years ago] there was not enough opportunity for voices that speak to a smaller audience. Now many of these places are looking to reach some people — not all the people. That’s opened up a tremendous opportunity for women and other people that have been left out of the conversation,” Noxon said.
Landgraf of FX believes a contraction is coming and predicts that today’s many small audiences won’t be profitable enough for scripted television. Even if that happens, the influence of streaming services may still be too great for traditional television shows to attract huge audiences again — after all, when a show is competing with Hulu, Amazon Prime or Netflix, it is waging war against an archive of already-produced shows. Competing with 400 other television shows might be a more winnable war than one waged against the entirety of the Netflix catalog.