'Peak TV' era reaches 409 scripted original series as programmers fret glut of TV content

FX Networks has released figures indicating the number of scripted original programs currently running across linear and digital channels has bloated to 409 shows.

This questionably sustainable level of content is more than double the number of scripted shows that were on the air in 2002, when FX launched its first original drama, The Shield.

"The unprecedented increase in the number of scripted series has reached a new milestone in 2015 with a record 409, nearly doubling the total in just the past six years. This was the third consecutive year that scripted series count has grown across each distribution platform—broadcast, basic and pay cable, streaming—led by significant gains in basic cable and digital services. This statistic is staggering and almost unimaginable from where they were a decade ago." said Julie Piepenkotter, executive VP of research for FX Networks, who led the research project.

Last summer, Piepenkotter's boss, John Landgraf, raised eyebrows at the Television Critics Association conference in Los Angeles, saying the show glut had become unsustainable. 

This content glut has been coined in the industry as "peak TV," which is derived from the 1950s-era concept of "peak oil" -- the point at which petroleum production hit its highest possible level.

The number of scripted series reached a new milestone in 2015. Click here for a bigger version of this chart. (Source: FX Networks Research)

This dynamic is being closely watched by pay-TV operators, whose program licensing negotiations are significantly dictated by the audience power of scripted programs.

The issue has emerged as channels across broadcast, cable and online platforms have sought to differentiate themselves and augment their brands with original content, in much the same way that HBO made itself a must-subscribe-to brand in the 1990s with shows like The Sopranos and Sex and the City.

Over the last five years, original shows on basic cable channels have increased from 74 to 181, while series on premium cable networks have grown from 25 to 37. Scripted shows on broadcast networks have increased from 114 to 147, as the reality TV phenomena has faded. On top of all this, original scripted shows on digital platforms like Netflix and Hulu have grown from four to 44 since 2010. 

For more:
- read this Wall Street Journal story
- read this Los Angeles Times story
- read this Variety story

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