It’s a fact of television that the major networks have been aware of for decades:

It’s easier to keep audiences hooked on an existing series than it is to attract viewers to a new show.

That’s why we have shows like The Simpsons, Grey’s Anatomy, and Law & Order (and its many spinoffs).

These are series that can measure their runs in decades rather than years, and even though most of them have experienced some major erosion in viewership lately, they’re still considered a safer bet than spending money on a new show.

No streamer has been around for as long as The Simpsons — hell, the residents of Springfield were already past their prime when Netflix entered the world as a DVDs-by-mail service.

But the OGs now have a long enough history that we can get a sense of what their business models might look like going forward.

And it looks more and more as though they’ll follow in the footsteps of NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox by continuing to throw money at proven entities rather than rolling the dice on new originals.

It’s tempting to admonish such a risk-averse approach, but looking at the data, it’s hard to place the blame on cautious execs.

A new report from Variety has confirmed what industry experts have long suspected — namely, that “the majority of original series on SVOD platforms go largely unwatched” as subscribers flock to a handful of hits and ignore pretty much everything else.

In fact, the situation is worse than previously expected, with “viewership on most services [being] concentrated among fewer than two dozen shows.”

Yes, fewer than two dozen shows are fueling Netflix’s continued growth.

(And as a publicly traded company, the original streamer relies on said growth for its survival.)

That might not sound so dire — until you consider that toward the end of 2023, Netflix boasted 3,657 original series.

And all that cash is thrown at all of those projects in the hope that one of them will emerge as the new Bridgerton or The Night Agent or Wednesday.

Because the bottom 3,640 or so are basically just money pits.

It’s a bleak situation, and if you’re wondering why Netflix seems so cancel-happy these days, so unwilling to let new shows find their footing — well, now you know.

Predictably, the situation has led to a massive drop-off in the number of orders for new scripted series.

Speaking with Variety, FX president Jon Landgraf — the guy who coined the phrase “peak TV” — revealed research concluding that 14% fewer new shows aired in 2023 than in the year prior.

And he expects that trend to continue.

So while Landgraf and other execs might be quick to celebrate when a new series like Shogun finds success with critics and audiences on Hulu and FX, their joy is likely tempered by the knowledge that such successes will be even fewer and more far between in the years to come.

While we’ve mostly focused on Netflix, the situation is not much different at the other major streamers.

In fact, viewership is even more concentrated at Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Max, and Paramount+, where the top 20 seasons of original programming account for more than 80% of original series viewership.

And since original series viewership makes up the vast majority of total viewership (80% or more in most cases) those streamers are more reliant than ever on a small handful of shows.

The situation is most dire at Disney+ and Peacock, where the top 20 seasons make up more than 95% of their original streaming.

That’s a lot of numbers that all point to the same problem — it’s more difficult than ever for new shows to find success in the increasingly crowded streaming market.

And the situation has resulted in lots of self-fulfilling prophecies — series that are essentially DOA before they ever air a single episode.

We’ve already discussed the fact that original series are where the money’s at, and streamers no longer see the value of spending big bucks on libraries loaded with movies and old network shows.

That means that what we have in store is an original content revolving door, in which new shows continue to be developed (albeit far fewer of them than in the past), but are given a much narrower window of time in which to find success.

And said success will be discussed in increasingly binary terms.

Gone will be the “middle class” of relatively low-budget shows that manage to narrowly escape the ax year after year.

More and more, every series that’s not the next Ted Lasso won’t be given the chance to develop any identity of its own.

You won’t attempt to sort out the psychology of why everyone is watching the same shows.

Although if we had to guess, it probably has to do with the same phenomenon that has people who wouldn’t toss a few bucks in the hat of a sidewalk busker taking out second mortgages to buy tickets to a Taylor Swift concert.

We’re not saying that the popular shows don’t deserve their popularity, but the fact is, humans are tribal creatures, and momentum is its own reward — and our tendency to fall in line with what everyone else is watching might lead the streaming landscape to shrink even more rapidly.

What do you think, TV fanatics? Do you miss the days when streamers were more willing to take risks, and new shows were given a chance to thrive? Hit the comments section below to share your thoughts.

Tyler Johnson is an Associate Editor for TV Fanatic and the other Mediavine O&O sites. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, cooking, and, of course, watching TV. You can Follow him on X and email him here at TV Fanatic.

Source link