Peak TV: Summer Viewing Spikes as Broadcast, Cable, SVOD Battle for Attention

Braindead cancelled CBS
Courtesy of CBS

The summer TV doldrums vanished when cable turned up the heat on originals in the warm-weather months. Now that streaming services have joined the fray, we’re not just at “Peak TV,” we’re at “Peak Summer TV,” according to a study from consulting firm Miner &Co Studio.

It was only natural that the spike in the number of scripted TV shows overall — to more than 400 last year — would mean greater volume of originals in the summer months. But with new outlets jumping into the original programming fray seemingly every other day, ratings are starting to resemble fractal patterns. The fracturing continues to raise questions about how exactly all these shows get paid for, and what the ultimate cost is to the consumer.

Of the 801 people Miner surveyed online, 78% said having so many good options “doesn’t stress them out.” They’re devoting more of their time to TV this summer, as opposed to reading or going to the movies: two out of three respondents said they’re more likely to skip a $15 trip to the movie theater because of the higher-quality TV waiting for them at home.

The respondents weren’t just bingeing on old shows, they were also adding new series like CBS’ “Braindead” to their personal lineups. In fact, Miner & Co. Studio president Robert Miner told Variety, though it might not show in the overnight ratings, their survey results point to an audience return to cable and broadcast programming, at the expense of streaming. “For the past few years, we’ve seen streaming do to cable and broadcast what cable did to broadcast, about 20 years ago,” Miner said. “But this was the first summer in a while that we heard people talking about shows that were coming up on cable or broadcast.”

Of course, when FX Networks CEO John Landgraf said, “There is simply too much television” a year ago, he was merely trying to explain the terrifying fracturing of the TV landscape, a phenomenon that is only growing worse, with summer series ratings deliveries down by double digits in 2015. Add in ballooning production costs, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a perfect summer storm.

“Not only are production costs skyrocketing, your talent is maxed,” Miner said. “But because it’s a far more competitive landscape, that’s bringing a lot of people over from the film fold to TV.” (Which might explain why two-thirds of respondents said now TV has better writers and directors than movies.)

But to bring down costs, networks are committing to shorter and shorter (or split) seasons—which 64% of Miner’s survey respondents approve of—and leaning into the anthological miniseries model that began with FX’s “American Horror Story.” “These new formats which allow for some of the tradeoffs for the cost are actually satisfying for viewers as well,” Miner said. “I think they’re becoming nimble and more adaptable.”

Adaptation also means selling second-run rights to the highest bidder, regardless of whether they’re a competitor. But of some comfort to TV execs leery of cannibalizing their linear audiences is the idea that off-season catch-up can indeed drive live viewing, particularly when dealing with seasons that are only 10 or 12 episodes. “With these shorter seasons, you’re better able to handle the windowing and drive to live,” Miner said.

(Pictured: “Braindead”)

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