TV Today: Too Much of a Good Thing?
- September 2, 2015
Beginning this month, the broadcast networks will launch 37 new series, of which only a handful will be hits. For better or worse, the fall TV dynamic hasn’t changed in decades. But what has changed is that these 37 shows now comprise only a fraction of all new series available on TV and online. This has led to a debate, most recently in Sunday’s New York Times, about whether there’s “too much” television. And that was before news surfaced of Apple’s long anticipated (some would say feared) foray into original programming.
I would argue that there’s no single answer to this question, as it depends on who you are.
Let’s start with viewers. While some have said that viewers are suffering under the crushing weight of so much choice — not to mention fear of commitment to shows that may not last — I strongly disagree. It’s just TV after all. Today’s cornucopia of content means that we can afford to be more discriminating. In the good old days, we saw a promo and tuned in; now, friends and family need to tell us something’s good before we check it out.
It’s also a good thing if you’re a content creator, as there are more buyers for your wares. Broadcast networks, cable networks and SVOD (Subscription Video on Demand) services all have the ability to greenlight your show, and some are even willing to forgo the dreaded pilot testing process. It’s also a boon to the major studios, who have more parties competing for exclusive rights to the shows they produce. (Sure, the syndication business may be challenged, but now there’s also a market for serialized dramas, which never did well as reruns.)
On the other hand, for those in charge of linear TV networks, there certainly can be too much of a good thing. With greater choice comes greater audience fragmentation and declining Nielsen ratings. Yes, new series face competition from more broadcast and cable shows than ever before, but thanks to Amazon, Netflix and Hulu, they also compete against earlier seasons of these same shows, as well as critically-acclaimed (or not) original content. So unless a network is lucky enough to have a Walking Dead or Empire on its hands, it’s bound to see declines year over year.
So what’s the answer? While I can’t say for sure, I do expect this problem to be relatively short-lived. While the explosion of professionally-produced content is putting pressure on today’s TV ecosystem, far bigger changes are in store when today’s tweens and teens become tomorrow’s adults. I fear that the current content explosion will seem like a blip on the radar when a generation that came of age watching the likes of PewDiePie, Smosh and BlueXephos is in charge of the remote (or whatever replaces the remote). Fortunately, I’ll be enjoying my retirement, watching reruns of Seinfeld.