TV in the 2010s: How the New Golden Age Turned Into the ‘Peak TV’ Era

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This decade saw an unprecedented amount of television, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down

In the summer of 2015, FX chief John Landgraf took the stage at the Beverly Hilton Hotel during the Television Critics Association press tour, as he’s done twice each year. But this time, he uttered the phrase that has become part of the industry lexicon: “This is simply too much television. My sense is that 2015 or 2016 will represent peak TV in America, and that we’ll begin to see declines coming the year after that and beyond.” The production of TV shows has only continued to rise as we head into the 2020s — and Landgraf has since walked back that lofty prediction. But his utterance of the words “Peak TV” ended up defining this current era of televised entertainment. The previous decade saw “The Sopranos” make HBO a household name, “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” turn AMC from an old-movie channel into a scripted powerhouse, proving that popular TV shows were no longer the sole domain of the broadcast networks. It was often cited as the beginning of a new Golden Era of Television, or the “Prestige TV” era. But the success of newcomers like AMC and FX, along with the rise of streamers like Netflix and Amazon moving into original content, kicked off a TV content gold rush that flooded the market. Landgraf was right on this point: There simply was too much television. In 2011, there were 266 scripted original series on television. By 2018, that number exploded to 495 scripted originals, according to FX Network’s research. That’s a jump of 86% in only eight years. Though FX hasn’t put out its annual scripted originals count for 2019, with new entrants like Apple and Disney launching their own streaming services you can pretty much bet that number surpassed 500 this year. Here’s a year-by-year breakdown that shows just how the TV count has risen over the decade:
  • 2011 — 266 original scripted TV series
  • 2012 — 288
  • 2013 — 349
  • 2014 — 389
  • 2015 — 422
  • 2016 — 455
  • 2017 — 487
  • 2018 — 495
The biggest year-over-year jump came between 2012 and 2013, right around the time Netflix and other streaming services began producing their own original series. The streaming service sent shockwaves through the industry when it announced that it would develop its own original TV shows, making them exclusive to its subscribers. At the time, Netflix was a place for catching up on old TV shows and movies. But the streaming service knew then what everyone found out in the years to come. Eventually the legacy media companies would feel the sting from consumers cutting the cord, since Netflix gave them a work-around rising pay TV costs to watch their favorite TV shows. As Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said in October during an industry conference: “This is why we made ‘House of Cards’ seven years ago. I said, ‘Someday, these guys are not going to sell us their programming, we better get good at it.’” That same year, both Amazon, in a bid to make its Amazon Prime service more attractive to potential customers, and Hulu got into the original content game as well. Even Yahoo made a brief attempt at scripted programming, when it picked up a sixth season of cult comedy “Community.” In 2017, CBS became the first broadcaster to jump into streaming when it ordered a new “Star Trek” series — exclusively for CBS All Access, as well as a spinoff of “The Good Wife.” In 2014, there were 33 shows on streaming services. By 2018, that number exploded by 385% to 160, accounting for 32% of all scripted TV shows. It was the first time that streaming eclipsed every other delivery method. It wasn’t just streaming services that led to the content overload. Basic cable networks like USA, TNT and TBS were having a moment of their own this decade, putting out more shows vs broadcast TV during every year between 2012 and 2017, peaking in 2015 with 186 scripted originals. This doesn’t even take in account the vast amount of reality and unscripted programming. As we head into the next decade, the content overdrive only figures to continue, and it will be even more tiled towards streaming. Disney and Apple launched their own streaming services in November, and next spring will see both WarnerMedia (with HBO Max) and Comcast (with Peacock) jump into the streaming era. The “Peak TV” era may have only just begun.