John Landgraf, the CEO of FX networks, feels the audience's pain. ''I long ago lost the ability to keep track of every scripted series,'' he confessed.
John Landgraf, the CEO of FX networks, feels the audience’s pain. ”I long ago lost the ability to keep track of every scripted series,” he confessed. ”This year, I finally lost track of the ability to keep track of every programmer who’s in the scripted programming business.”
Viewers, along with network bosses, can all agree with Landgraf: ”This is simply too much television.”
Speaking to TV critics Friday, he noted that last year the total of original scripted TV series had swollen to an eye-popping 370 – and he predicted this year the number would likely exceed 400.
Adding to the influx, of course, have been program newcomers like Netflix and Amazon and, in the season ahead, a boosted push by digital services such as Crackle.
With such a proliferation of viewing options, even the good shows contribute to the problem as they ”get in the way of the viewer finding the great ones,” Landgraf said. ”This has had an enormous impact on everyone’s ability to cut through the clutter and create real buzz.”
This trend won’t be going on much longer, he warned, saying 2016 will likely represent the programming peak.
”We will begin to see declines coming the year after that and beyond,” he said.
An across-the-board erosion in ratings will lead to this reduction in series as well as outlets that provide them.
”You take a fixed audience and divide it by 400-plus shows, it stands to reason their ratings will go down,” he said. Meanwhile, viewers’ access to programs has extended from the night a given episode is introduced to potentially any time after that, thanks to video-on-demand and digital platforms spreading out each series’ audience over days and even months.
”You’re seeing a transformation in the mode that people are using to access television,” Landgraf added. With increasing viewership on apps or subscription video-on-demand, ”that’s putting a lot of pressure on linear channels and ratings.”
One way for a programmer to navigate these stormy waters: cultivate and rely on that network’s own brand identity, which can be a rallying point for viewers.
”Brand is a mission statement and a promise to viewers,” said Landgraf, whose FX brand represents shows that range from ”Louie” and ”It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” to ”American Horror Story,” ”Fargo” and ”The Bastard Executioner,” an upcoming series from ”Sons of Anarchy” creator Kurt Sutter. ”FX is a brand viewers love and trust.”
But while voicing confidence that FX can prevail, Landgraf didn’t soft-pedal the struggles that lie ahead for his network group and others.
”Managing through this transition is hard,” he declared. Speaking for the shakeout that will face the TV business overall, he said, ”It’s going to be a messy, inelegant process.”