Peak TV Has Finally Unpeaked

It took two major Hollywood labor strikes and a broader economic downturn to finally un-peak Peak TV.

Over the course of 2023, just 481 U.S. scripted series were released, new research from Ampere Analytics states. For both 2021 and 2022, the London-based media analytics firm calculated 633 U.S. series were released. We will spare you the math: it’s a decline of 24 percent.

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(John Landgraf, the FX chief who first coined the phrase “Peak TV” and has updated/awed TV critics each year with a new tally, had a slightly smaller total for ’21 and ’22; we do not yet have his 2023 total. IndieWire reached out to FX for comment on Ampere’s numbers, but we did not immediately receive a response. Either way, Landgraf saw this reversal coming, strikes or no strikes.)

Even the COVID-impacted 2020 saw 510 U.S. series released, Ampere found. (For the purposes of this study, a U.S. series refers to a series — not a special or TV movie — produced in the U.S.)

It is not just that fewer series were released last year; fewer series were ordered, too. In 2022, 661 U.S. scripted series were ordered; only 418 were ordered in 2023. That’s an even larger decline: 37 percent.

It should go without saying, but to release a series, you first must order one. In other words, we are not going back above 500 annual U.S. scripted series releases anytime soon — possibly ever.

SVOD (streaming video on-demand) services released 77 fewer seasons of TV last year than in 2022; linear television (broadcast and cable) released 55 fewer seasons. On linear TV, many of the lost seasons are really just delayed; they’re making (or will make) their way to our airwaves in midseason, which may inflate 2024’s numbers. The same thing happened post-COVID.

Streaming won’t see a similar rebound. Netflix alone reduced its releases from 107 (2022) to 68 (2023) — and most of that reduction came before the actors strike (and much of it before the earlier writers strike). Peacock’s releases dropped by 20, Hulu’s by 11, and Max’s by nine. Paramount+ released four fewer shows, eroding that Mountain of Entertainment a bit.

Releases from Amazon, Apple TV+, and Disney+ were steady year to year, but only Amazon ordered the same number of shows in ’23 as it did in ’22. Even Apple knows when to stop spending.

Don’t look to AVOD (ad-supported video on-demand) and FAST (free, ad-supported streaming television) to make up for the losses. At this point, pretty much every major SVOD and/or AVOD platform are truly SAVOD — a platform that offers both ad-free and ad-supported plans. Apple TV+ remains ad-free, but commercials are coming to Amazon’s Prime Video in 10 days. FAST platforms (like Fox’s Tubi or Paramount’s Pluto) rarely produce scripted original series.

Even in a year without strikes, platforms would no longer spend as much on content as they once did. The streaming wars are effectively over with Netflix as the winner. And most streamers (minus Netflix, probably Hulu, and sometimes Max) are still looking to turn their first profit, and you can’t really spend your way into revenue outpacing expenses. Even all of these price hikes haven’t made that happen — perhaps password-sharing crackdowns can.

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