America has never had so much TV, and even Hollywood is overwhelmed
By Drew Harwell
Nov 7 2016
That boom is reshaping the industry from Atlanta to Hollywood, where even washed-up actors are suddenly in high demand and open studio space is the holy grail, said Henrik Bastin, executive producer of “Bosch,” a gritty cop drama on Amazon.
Craftspeople, who once went months without a gig, are now fought over and recruited for shows that have become so ambitious, expensive and intricate they’re “like making a movie each week,” Bastin said.
“There’s literally no studio space in the L.A. area right now,” Bastin said. “Cameras and equipment are flying off the shelves.” Studios, he added, are locking in every cast and crew member they can with a clear message: “Don’t go anywhere.”
Desperate for buzz and worried over their survival, those networks are spending heavily in hopes of launching a prestige franchise — a “Game of Thrones” or “Breaking Bad” — that can captivate distracted audiences and pierce America’s increasingly saturated marketplace for must-binge TV.
But the wild spending is stoking fears about whether or when TV’s financial bubble might burst. The glut of scripted dramas and comedies has dramatically boosted budgets, but it has not solved the industry’s most dire dilemma: The lack of a functioning business model for a new TV era.
“The overall television ecosystem can’t sustain this,” said Eric Schrier, president of original programming for FX Networks, home of Emmy winners such as “The Americans” and “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.”
“There are networks [investing] in original programming and scripted TV that are trying to justify their existence by being in that business,” Schrier added. “And as the consumer can’t consume all this content, the strong will survive and the weak will not be able to exist.”
The old duels of the TV business were simple: Big broadcasters and smaller cable channels tussling over a single box, the living-room TV set.
Now, the business is packed with new competitors, including online streaming’s expanding empires, and looking shakier than ever. Millions of “cord-cutting” American households are trimming their cable TV bills or shifting their viewing to computer, cellphone and tablet screens altogether.
The number of original scripted TV shows has about doubled since 2010, to more than 430 series this year, industry research from FX Networks show. Over the same period, the cost of filming and promoting the typical episode has climbed 20 percent, to more than $4 million an hour, as competition for actors, studio space and audience has intensified.
Broadcast and basic-cable networks drove the new-show surge, but Web outlets’ rapid-fire debut of high-profile franchises egged them on. In 2010, online streamers aired four original series. In the first-half of this year, they aired 49.
Streaming’s biggest behemoths, Netflix and Amazon, have more than doubled their yearly spending on original programming since 2013, to $7.5 billion last year, more money than the film industries of entire countries, including Australia and South Korea, data from investment researcher IHS Markit show.
Those companies are spending “shock-and-awe levels of money,” as one cable executive said, in hopes that viewers will abandon old-school TV and embrace their Web-first universe. Netflix says it will produce 1,000 hours of original programming next year, up from 600 hours this year.