Is Peak TV over?

FX, whose chairman John Landgraf famously coined the term Peak TV, has put out its annual review on the number of US scripted TV shows. For the first time since they began tracking in 2009, it dipped (slightly), making many wonder if we've finally hit the peak of Peak TV.

There are a variety of factors for why it dipped this past year. The pandemic is an obvious and major one, curtailing the 2020 pilot season and impacting planned show productions. As networks scrambled to find programming, they shifted to unscripted and acquired shows. But COVID also accelerated existing trends, including pushing audiences to streaming, with basic cable shrinking their slates as they lose share. So has the bubble burst?

Frankly, I'm skeptical. With Apple+ walking away from Sundance having spent $25M on CODA, it's clear that the streamers are still aggressively competing. Many of them have yet to build the sort of cadence with tentpole content that justifies ongoing subscriptions. Without that cadence, subscribers churn. In October, Deloitte reported that 40% of survey participants had canceled at least one subscription service in the past six months, up from 20% in January. That meshes with my own experience. I thought P-Valley on Starz was one of the best shows of 2020. But nothing else in their lineup really appealed to me. So I became a subscriber for that show, and canceled immediately after it wrapped. I'll do the same when the second season comes out.

This type of churn isn't sustainable and puts the industry's aggressive growth targets at risk. To give you a sense, the average streamer has 2-3 x the monthly churn of the industry leader, Netflix. One of the best ways to limit churn is to increase content spend. So my best guess is that we're still in the middle innings of Peak TV and that, in retrospect, 2020 was just a speed bump as content budgets move higher.

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