Too Much TV?

Is there too much TV being produced these days? It depends on who you ask.

Image provided by imdb/HBO

FX CEO John Landgraf made the observation last summer that TV might be in a bubble. He estimated that with approximately 400 scripted series slated for the next year, the industry was in a position where there was too much TV.

Netflix executive Ted Sarandos brought up Landgraf’s assertion this week and, not surprisingly, disagreed. While acknowledging the sharp increase in the production of original programming across a variety of networks and platforms, he argued that consumption of new programming had also increased.

That’s a difficult assertion to parse. Especially since streaming services like Netflix decline to provide viewing numbers for their content. Intuitively, though, it feels like a correct statement, given all the options viewers now have to find and consume content.

On its face, yes, 400 series unspooled across a variety of platforms over the course of one year would be too much for any one person to watch. But is anyone really expecting every viewer to watch every TV show produced? That would certainly be a scenario where one might agree there was too much TV.

Image provided by imdb/FOX

The fact is, no one will ever be able to watch every series available. There are too many choices. But that’s also kind of the point. Even high quality, much-praised shows aren’t for everyone. Viewers have wildly differing tastes. As the way that people consume television have proliferated in recent years, it’s encouraged the production of more “niche” programming. Shows that appeal to a particular sensibility that don’t need to draw a broad audience immediately.

In some ways, there has always been too much TV. Even when choices were limited to three broadcast networks and a handful of local channels, there was too much TV. Before recording technology, viewers had to choose which of competing shows to watch. If they were interested in another show in the same time slot, they had to hope they’d be able to catch a rerun at some point.

That’s just a variation on a theme. Modern viewers are “limited” by how many shows they can DVR. Or whether or not they have access to OnDemand or streaming services. Or can wait until a DVD collection comes out. And so on.

The business model of people who make TV depends on their being too much TV for any viewer to take in at once. Producers make significant profits on viewers following shows in syndication and via streaming or home video. To some extent, they want you to say “I don’t have time to watch that now, but it’s on my list for someday.” The whole concept of original programming on streaming services is predicated on viewers watching them whenever it’s most convenient. That could be next week or a couple years from now.

Image provided by imdb/BBC

The old model where a show had to produce 100 episodes to cash in via syndication has eroded steadily. Even a show with a small number of episodes can find a lucrative audience after its run. Look at HBO’s The Comeback. Its first season was low-rated and HBO cancelled it. But fans discovered the show via HBO’s library of original series. Almost a decade later, that first season’s successful afterlife led HBO to commission a second season.

So yes, there is too much TV for any one person to watch all of it when it first debuts. But no, there is not too much TV being made from a long-term perspective.

If there’s an audience for a show, they’ll find it. Sooner or later.

Originally published at on October 16, 2015.

Like what you read? Give Brian C. Poole a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.