We are living in a peak TV era. John Landgraf, president and general manager of FX Network, came up with this definition in 2015, when the United States had 421 shows on air. Now they are more than 500.
The success of TV series is no mystery. Gripping screenplays; well-known directors and actors – back in the days going from big to small screen would have been considered degrading, with only few exceptions like David Lynch, now you can find Martin Scorsese as well as Matthew McConaughey; the story arc which doesn’t finish in a single episode, keeping the spectators holding on for years. Until the late ’90s, you could have watched episodes of show like Stursky & Hutch, MacGyver or Friends in no chronological order without traumas.
We all know that. The numbers of an industry which is dethroning filmmaking are much more interesting. Billboards and commercials give the feeling that new shows or new seasons are predominant on movies. That’s why Hollywood, not always equivalent of quality but surely business oriented, mainly invests on superheroes stories, the ones that sells more at the box office.
HBO spent more than 50 million dollars just for the first season of Game of Thrones, at the sixth season the budget was already doubled. At the same time, the live spectators increased four times, from 2,5 millions to 10 millions. And the show is distributed in 173 countries. HBO had a repayment of 252 million dollars only with the domestic subscriptions. Plus there are DVD and Blue Ray sells, that brings the network 50% of each sell. Better yet with legal downloads. HBO detains 70% of the 3,50 dollars price.
The author of the book, George R.R. Martin, increased sells thanks to the popularity brought by television, while the composer of the soundtrack, Ramin Djawadi, took advantage and organized a northern American tour, with a half a million dollars income.
The cost-benefit analysis on 19 original productions made by Amazon in 2017 highlighted that there were 26 millions spectators in the USA, one out of three is subscribed to Amazon Prime. The total expense was 5 billion dollars, 200 millions of which only for Lord of the Rings, that will become a show since 2021. Plus, they hired Robert Kirkman, the screenwriter of The Walking Dead.
Netflix (of course) is the biggest spender. 6 billion dollars investments to get the most admired screenwriters, including Shonda Rhimes of Grey’s Anatomy. They even convinced the already retired comedian David Letterman to be back. HBO and Hulu are behind, with expenses of “just” 2,5 billions. Netflix wants to have a thousand shows within the end of 2019, right now is producing 500 contents among TV series and movies (just a third of the total visualizations).
Ted Sarandos, manager of Netflix, explains this with the fact that the company buys the license to put movies on air, it doesn’t produce them. So, part of the public might have already seen them at the theaters. Or it could be the confirmation that right now TV shows are more popular than movies. We’ll find out soon, as Netflix aspires to have only original productions, without buying anything.
Many other networks are ready to invade the market: Apple, Facebook and YouTube can reach these kinds of investments in few years, relying on a already wide base of consumers. Plus, Apple has iTunes for the streaming distribution.
At least they hope so, counting on the precedent set by Netflix: 4,5 million subscriptions outside the USA only between July and September 2018, an improvement beyond their expectations which allowed them to overcome the target of 100 million subscriptions. In 2017 they earned 11 billions. After all, they produced Narcos, House of cards and Orange is the new black, just to pick random shows.
Will it last? On the one hand is better to hope that it won’t. Sure, the ample offer can satisfy everyone’s taste, but there are also negative effects. Starting from the addiction generated, the binge watching, when you spend days watching a series. It’s true that TV marathons aren’t a new phenomenon, one of the first examples was Star Trek in the ’70s. But 50 years ago you either had to wait for an episode on air and then record it, or buy the box set at the shop. Now you can get your drugs on line whenever you want, with a choice of 500 of them.
We also have to consider that if this trend will be confirmed and we’ll have six or seven competitors, the average user won’t possibly be able to keep up with the offer. Unless he or she will subscribe to all networks and won’t leave the house…
There is a beacon of light, though. The intrinsic definition of peak (TV) implies that after you reach the top you can only go down…