Peak TV hasn’t peaked yet, but it may be slowing down just a bit. A record 495 original scripted streaming, cable, and broadcast series were released in 2018, a slight increase from the 487 shows that came out in 2017, according to research released Thursday by FX Networks. What’s more, for the first time in TV history, streamers such as Netflix and Amazon accounted for the biggest share of all scripted production in 2018. The only reason the overall tally cooled down this year: Basic cable networks hit the brakes on scripted series in a big way. Here’s a quick look at the highlights of the FX report:
• In terms of the overall production, online platforms — everything from Netflix to Facebook Watch and Sundance Now — produced 160 (32 percent) of the year’s 495 scripted originals. That easily beat the broadcast nets (146 shows, or 30 percent), basic cable (144 shows, or 29 percent), and pay TV networks such as HBO and Showtime (45 shows, or 9 percent).
• Total scripted series output rose a modest 2 percent year-to-year, the smallest annual increase since FX started publicly releasing its data earlier this decade. The past few years, production had been increasing by a steady 7 to 8 percent. And in 2013 — the year Netflix jumped headfirst into the originals game — it leapt 17 percent.
• While broadcast TV (down 5 percent) and pay cable (up 7 percent) were relatively steady versus 2018, basic cable production dropped a dramatic 17 percent this year. It was the second consecutive year of decline for basic cable, and quite likely the largest annual decline for such networks since the 2002 launch of FX’s The Shield kicked off basic cable’s aggressive push into scripted series. These numbers, notable as they are, don’t come as a complete surprise: A number of cablers (Lifetime, A&E, TVLand) have decided to cut back or pull out completely from the scripted arms race.
• By contrast, streaming surged (again) this year, with online platforms growing their scripted portfolios by around 27 percent, a bit more than last year’s 24 percent spike but nowhere near 2016’s 46 percent surge. The year saw a number of outlets jump into the marketplace in a major way, including Facebook Watch, D.C. Universe, and YouTube Premium. Streamers actually have a bigger market share than these numbers suggest, by the way. That’s because FX doesn’t count shows dubbed into English — think Narcos: Mexico or Babylon Berlin — even if they’re produced by an American platform such as Netflix. If you count those shows as scripted originals, the total Peak TV tally in 2018 passed 500 shows.
• Streaming’s rise to dominant player in the scripted space has been stunningly swift. In 2014, online services represented just 8 percent of all scripted production, the smallest of any platform. Four years later, streamers have quadrupled their share of the market, to 32 percent. With Disney, Apple, and AT&T all set to make the push into online platforms next year, that number should go even higher.