FX Networks Chief John Landgraf: ‘There Is Simply Too Much Television’

John Landgraf
Frank Micelotta/FX

FX Networks CEO John Landgraf took aim at the irrational exuberance that has gripped the television business in the past few years, predicting that the seemingly ever-growing volume of original scripted series programming will begin to decline after next year.

“There is simply too much television,” Landgraf said flatly during his presentation Friday at FX’s portion of the summer Television Critics Assn. press tour. Citing FX research, he predicted that the number of original scripted series on the air this year “will easily blow through the 400 series mark” and probably rise in 2016 before an inevitable winnowing begins. The process will undoubtedly be Darwinian and weighted toward the largest companies with the top shows and the financial wherewithal to weather the storm and inevitable failure.

The biz “is in the late stages of a bubble. We’re seeing a desperate scrum — everyone is trying to jockey for position,” Landgraf. “We’re playing a game of musical chairs, and they’re starting to take away chairs.”

In his wide-ranging discussion of macro-economic issues weighing on major media congloms, Landgraf stressed that the industry has no choice but come up with new business models to address the erosion in the traditional advertising market and the disruption in the way viewers are watching television.

“It’s going to be a messy, inelegant process,” Landgraf said, noting the shock that media congloms have had this week as stock prices were hammered by Wall Street’s rising worry that cord cutting is eating into long-term earnings potential. He called the surprising selloff of media shares, including those of FX Networks parent, 21st Century Fox, an overreaction, but one that underscores the lack of clarity on how new business models will be established in the coming years.

“There are going to be weeks like this week when Wall Street radically overreacts, and then it’ll recover a bit,” he said.

In his comments, Landgraf reflected the clear tension between traditional media and digital upstarts like Netflix. He admitted that he would have preferred to not license FX programming to Netflix or Amazon, but in reality those deals had to be done because FX did not have the same ability as the netcasters to reap off-network profits in the SVOD arena.

Nonetheless, the largest media congloms control the marquee brands that will become increasingly more important to viewers as the landscape of entertainment becomes so saturated with options.

“It’s a bumpy, rocky transition, but it’s not a transition that leads to a valueless future for Disney, Time Warner and 21st Century Fox and only Netflix (succeeds),” he said. “Brands are increasingly important as mediating filters for an overwhelmed public.”

The jam-packed landscape of shows has become a big problem for all programmers because viewers are overwhelmed by options that it’s becoming much harder to launch series. He cited FX’s Billy Crystal-Josh Gad comedy “The Comedians,” which was canceled after one season, as an example of a show that greatly improved over the course of its run but, with so much competition, execs decided it was virtually impossible to get viewers and TV critics to give it a second look.

The audience “is overwhelmed by the sheer volume of TV shows,” he said. “It’s impossible to get you to take another look at something you’ve already rejected.”

By FX’s math, there were about 280 scripted series on the air in the U.S. five years ago. In 2014, it was about 371. And this boom has come at a time when Netflix, Amazon, Hulu et al. are also providing instant access to an array of older series. “You take a fixed audience and divide it by 400 shows (and library product), and most shows are going to see ratings go down,” he said.

Moreover, there’s no question that many viewers prefer the commercial-free environment of SVOD platforms, or premium services like HBO and Showtime. Ad-supported television has to find new formulas for delivering advertising that also recognizes the dramatic shift in the time frames in which viewers watch television. That means doing more with targeted advertising, cutting down on the number of breaks during a program in favor of more relevant spots that appear in less intrusive ways, he said.

“Advertising is going to have to radically change,” he said. “If the only thing an advertiser will be is C3 (ratings), how do you have every episode of ‘The Americans’ on a service with targeted advertising opportunities? How do you assign the appropriate value to someone who just starts watching the first episode of the first season of ‘The Americans’ because they’ve heard so much about it?”

Landgraf noted that advertising accounted for 55% of FX’s revenue when he took over the network in 2004; today it’s about 32%, and Landgraf predicts it will drop at least 1% per year. In 2004 FX had no revenue from content licensing; this year it’s about 12% of the overall pie and growing as the company has beefed up the operations of the FX Prods. unit.

“Viewership is spreading out chronologically over time,” he said. “Nearly all of the viewership of a TV show used to come on the first night. Now that is spread out across the DVR, VOD and streaming” that takes places anywhere from seven to 28 days after premiere. “The ability to make revenue off a television show is challenged. When you have a large thriving portfolio of television as we do you can manage your way through that.”

Landgraf wasn’t all business during the session. He gave a shout-out to the new Denis Leary comedy “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll,” which has received mixed reviews. “We’re very pleased with the performance of this show and very optimistic about its future,” he said.

FX has a big launch coming up on Sept. 15 with “The Bastard Executioner,” Kurt Sutter’s follow-up to “Sons of Anarchy.” Landgraf acknowledged that the pilot, set in the Middle Ages among warrior knights, is dense and marks a departure from “Sons.” They opted to turn the first two episodes into a two-hour premiere to help the audience grasp the breadth of the show’s world.

“If people stick with it, he’s going to get his hooks into you,” Landgraf said of Sutter.

 

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  1. Steve says:

    Ok im not sure if this will reach anyone who wroks for fx bit this chanle is turning to shit not by shows but schedual you cant start a show on a real time like 9 10 no yall start like 9:25 and it carries over i have to record two times to gwt one show what the hell is wrong with yall starting at 9 and end at 10 i have to tape 3 shows just to get the two i want if yall dont plan on fixing this any time soon im just going to watch every thing on net flix and drop this chanel yall have good shows just really bad timeing please fixit or il just wait till its on net flix

  2. Jesus, I’m not sure which is more full of “hurr durr technology is bad fire is scary and thomas edison was a witch” mentality – the article or the comment section.

  3. nerdrage says:

    There IS too much television, even if you winnow it down to only the quality stuff. Content is not king, not when so much is competing with limited attention spans and free time. What’s king is being the gatekeeper – being a Netflix or an Amazon – taking customers credit card numbers and having the power to promote your shows to them, and not let them even hear about other stuff. That’s why NFLX stock is headed for Saturn, that and the fact that they’re becoming a gatekeeper at a global level. Hollywood is going to find itself becoming a mere handmaiden, churning out content that Netflix can crown a hit or a miss, depending on whether it promotes it to its rapidly growing, locked-in audience.

  4. Sam America says:

    He’s right but he’s wrong! problem is TOO MUCH CRAP AND REMAKES AND NO TALENT LEFT IN
    HOLLYWEIRD AND BIAS MEDIA AND TOO MUCH LIBERAL POLITICAL CRAP! There are no new
    original shows being made worth even watching! I got rid of cable after being laid off and a year later
    I don’t miss it at all! I didn’t watch but a few channels anyway! I have a BIG movie and TV collection
    so I don’t need much and the bias news isn’t worth watching I can get it off the internet and I stopped
    going to movies years ago! they suck! with a few exceptions what fing movie was hollyweird made
    in the last 20 years that anybody will remember or want to watch over again but the braindead morons
    who are still dumb enough to pay to see the crap they are making? WAKE UP HOLLYWEIRD AND
    WASHINGTON PEOPLE ARE FED UP WITH YOU! FOX debate got over 40 million viewers! Obama
    got 3 million at the most of any of his TV appearances! The Sleeping Giant has awaken! payback time!

  5. RE: The “irrational exuberance that has gripped the television business” – Now that’s a bubble the tv biz pumped up without proper risk assessment. Too much TV ? Is that too many programs or too many channels ? Oh, waaahhh ! Sounds like someone wants to control, slow down and limit this creative media explosion. Sounds like a complaint about the media consumer having too many choices, too many options.

    But from a media consumer-viewers point of view, how can that really be ? We are only beginning to learn and exercise the present options. We are here to watch what we want, when we want, and how and where we want. That’s now the nature of this new media environment. That’s what the technology has brought us to. And that’s disrupting the “BIGGIES” way of business way too fast for them to respond.

    So sure, there will be a shake-out of sorts, hopefully with quality programs and events winning out. But that’s not going to make it any easier on the tv biz. With the production technology readily available and the ways and means to distribute content, the creative people will exercise their minds and continue to create more and more watchable and entertaining shows without Hollywood and without scripts and big budgets.

    Tv biz, is it competition you weren’t prepared to compete with ? You hung on to the old model too long and are playing catch-up now. You’ve only just begun to compete. Get used to a continuing to fracture viewing audience with narrowing demographic targets. We are all broadcasters now, and don’t have the big budgets and stock-holders to answer to…..its now a world of “individual media channels” to compete with now and into the future.

  6. cadavra says:

    “Too much television?” That’s rich. Fox has eighteen broadcast and cable networks, not counting all the regional sports channels, plus six Spanish-language networks and God only knows how many outside North America. If there’s any corporation clogging up the dish, it’s them!

  7. TheBigBangOf20thCenturyPopCulture says:

    Suits still don’t get it. There is too much television filled with violent dystopian subject matter to think the masses are that stupid as to fall for a steady diet of toxic dreck programming. That’s why kids are flocking online and old folks are living in the past with retro indie stations. To escape the bad content.

    • Sam America says:

      what a liberal dope! the bias media own the media with their liberal crap! brainwashing people that
      is only way the demoncraps and their progressive garbage got this far! but people are fed up by
      the response and viewing of the debate on FOX with over 40 million viewers! Obama is toast and
      so is the burned out demoncrap socialist agenda! it has been exposed! go watch PMSNBC dope!

    • nerdrage says:

      Kids are flocking to cat videos on YouTube and brainless celebrity gossip sites because they demand quality? Yeah right.

  8. Vic Nardozza says:

    A television executive who thinks there is too much television should get out of the business. And cancelling a show he considered high quality in The Comedians is moronic. How did this goof get the job in the first place?

    • Jedi77 says:

      He does sound like an idiot, doesn’t he?
      This is the guy who would have cancelled Breaking Bad, because he doesn’t understand that the public recognizes quality not brand names.

    • JoelR says:

      Networks and studio home video depts. are filled with programming people who don’t deserve their jobs. (NBC and Disney being the worst…totally clueless about their customer base, content, and potential.).

      • Mitchem says:

        Don’t forget Fox. Did you see that game show “Knock, Knock”? No one else did either.

      • Sam America says:

        agree NBC hasn’t had decent programming that isn’t far left crap since Seinfeld went off the air!
        in the early years NBC was a great network with great shows that are still popular but now they
        are nothing but political motivated propaganda network especially it’s failed PMSNBC left wing crap!

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