Feb 2, 2021 - Economy

Pandemic puts Peak TV on pause

Reproduced from an FX Networks Research report; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from an FX Networks Research report; Chart: Axios Visuals

The number of new original scripted series finally declined last year, after growing steadily for the past decade to over 500 new shows in 2019.

Why it matters: Pandemic-related production delays forced many TV networks and streamers to rely more heavily on unscripted series, like reality shows and animation, as well as licensing shows from foreign networks for U.S. audiences.

By the numbers: Last year, there were 493 new scripted series, according to data from Disney-owned cable network FX, down about 7% from the 532 new scripted series produced in 2019.

  • Still, 493 scripted series is more than double the number of new shows the industry produced just 11 years ago, when FX first started compiling this research.
  • Most of the new scripted series in the past few years have come from tech firms or traditional TV networks making series for their new streaming services.

Be smart: Industry experts had long anticipated that we would eventually hit "Peak TV," and that the number of new series would start to plateau, but few expected that would happen thanks to a pandemic shutting down production studios globally.

What to watch: A slew of new entrants into the streaming wars last year will likely help to boost new scripted series development in 2021 as more people are vaccinated.

  • For cable and broadcast networks, it no longer makes as much sense to invest in new scripted series for live TV, when consumers are mostly looking to watch that type of programming on-demand.
  • Instead, expect more live TV networks to invest in news and sports to keep their cable and broadcast networks alive as cord-cutting persists.

The bottom line: The pandemic-related pauses in production have left stuck-at-home consumers antsy for more new hits. But more are on the way.

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