We’re hitting TV overload.
It seems like every other week another must-see season of a show that requires some serious binge-watching is being released in its entirety on Amazon or Netflix. Then, there’s the steady stream of broadcast shows like Modern Family and Scandal with episodes that rollout weekly from September to May. And shorter seasons of cable and pay-cable programs like The Walking Dead and Shameless that are carefully spaced throughout the year, so there’s rarely a moment when fresh content isn’t being released.
It’s nearly impossible to keep up with it all.
There were, in fact, more original scripted series on US TV and online than ever before this year, according to research by FX Networks, the cable channel that coined the phrase “peak TV.” The network counted 455 scripted original series across streaming platforms and TV networks in 2016, up from 421 last year and 210 seven years ago.
Here’s how that breaks down between pay-cable networks like HBO, basic-cable channels like FX, broadcast outlets including PBS, and online platforms like Netflix:
As the chart shows, most of this year’s growth in scripted TV was driven by online services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Crackle, and Seeso, which collectively had 93 scripted series in 2016, up from 46 last year, according to the study. At that growth rate, streaming video could conceivably overtake cable and broadcast in volume of scripted originals by 2017. Both Netflix and Amazon spent significantly more on originals this year than last. And Netflix has said it plans to boost spending again next year, just not as steeply.
Cable, premium-cable, and broadcast networks, by contrast, had fewer originals this year than last year, despite an explosion of growth in the cable sector over the last seven years. That balanced the scales a bit—not enough.
Some extremely dedicated viewers have resorted to speed-watching shows to stay on track amidst the constant barrage of screens, from video games to Snapchat, competing for their time. Others have conceded that they can’t watch everything. The Walking Dead, a usual ratings juggernaut, saw its viewership dip slightly this season because of its sluggish, meandering plot lines and competition from other shows like Westworld that aired on the same date and time in the US.
At a certain point, the content arms race will have to end, or media companies will spend themselves into oblivion with viewers who are too exhausted or overwhelmed to watch.