Is the ‘Golden Age of Television’ Coming to an End?

FX President John Landgraf sent shivers down the spines of television executives last week when he declared that the so-called “golden age” of the medium could soon be reaching its end.

“This is simply too much television,” Landgraf said during the network’s presentation at the Television Critics Association press tour on Friday. “My sense is that 2015 and 2016 will represent a peak in U.S. TV, and afterward we’ll see a decline.”

With so much quality programming on TV for the past few years (not to the exclusion of awful reality TV series), Landgraf warned of a small-screen entertainment “bubble” that is set to burst.

Landgraf pointed to his networks’ own internal research that predicted there would be more than 400 scripted television series across all platforms by the end of 2015, up from 371 in 2014. In 2010, there were just 213 scripted shows across broadcast, cable, and streaming services.

The FX executive added that big networks known for their original programming, like HBO and AMC, and streaming services like Netflix are unlikely to be victims of that “burst” content bubble. Instead, he warned: “I don’t think that independent channels are going to fare particularly well in the future.”

Landgraf’s startlingly frank thoughts on the future of television were lent all the more weight by the venue in which he chose to air them: the TCA executive panel, where network honchos typically brag about their upcoming lineups. That he decided to speak about the dire future of television content speaks volumes about the seriousness with which he sees a threat.

It is true that there are only so many hours in a day to consume television content. And as more and more scripted shows are broadcast across multiple platforms, the TV entertainment landscape will undoubtedly continue to fragment, driving ratings down for even the most successful programs.

Americans’ changing viewing habits are not helping matters; media companies’ stocks took a nosedive last week after a new report found that as many as 3.2 million ESPN subscribers had abandoned the channel in a little over a year, continuing a trend of Americans ditching pricey bundled cable packages for cheap streaming entertainment from services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and Roku.

As a result, the Wrap‘s Daniel Holloway writes that we are in the “golden age’s latter days.”

“Spending on scripted shows cannot continue to grow unchecked while ad revenues decline and other forms of revenue have yet to mature,” Holloway writes, adding:

“That doesn’t mean that great TV won’t continue to be made. But very soon there undoubtedly will be less of it. And the much ballyhooed creative freedom that comes from big budgets, widespread experimentation and an expanding competitive landscape could give way to tighter reins and more calculated decision-making.”

But others aren’t ready to sound the alarm just yet. Writing for Forbes, Merrill Barr called Landgraf’s warnings “ludicrous” from a creative perspective, but avoided addressing the increasingly unstable financial model of the networks.

“Put simply, without the glut of ‘good’ TV creating a necessary space for competition among the networks, we would never get to the ‘great’ TV that spawned such ludicrous statements in the first place like the one we saw made last week,” Barr wrote.

Whatever the outcome, Landgraf said during the panel that one of FX’s shows, the recently-cancelled The Comedians starring Billy Crystal and Josh Gad, had already become a casualty of an over-abundance of TV options.

“Some of the later episodes of the first season were really great, but you (the critics) and the audience are so overwhelmed, it’s hard to go back to shows you have rejected,” Landgraf told the audience, according to Deadline.

Landgraf called The Comedians “an outstanding creative achievement, we just couldn’t find substantial audience to sustain it.”


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