Peak TV Broke Records in 2022. That Won’t Happen Again

Illustration of binoculars with streaming play buttons in the lenses
Illustration: VIP+; Adobe Stock

This year saw 2,024 original shows released across TV and subscription streaming, a new record in the seemingly ceaseless rise of the amount of content being made available for consumption in the U.S. 

Variety Intelligence Platform’s analysis, based upon data from our sister company Luminate Film & TV, found the number of scripted and unscripted originals rose by 137 versus 2021, an increase of 7%. Compared with the figures from 2012, a decade earlier, there were 779 more shows — a gain of 63%. 

But this may be the last year for scripted content to grow considerably, given the new focus on profitability at content companies and the fact that scripted is much more expensive to produce than unscripted.  

There were 99 more scripted shows made in 2022 than in 2021 (+13%), with the 849 total a new record. Unscripted shows also reached a new peak — 1,175 — but this represented only 3% growth, or 38 more shows. Producing more unscripted than scripted shows is a trend that should continue. 

2021 was the year when SVOD’s output exceeded that of cable for the first time, and this remains the case in 2022. Cable originals did see an increase from the prior year, up by 39 — or 5% — but they lag behind pre-pandemic levels, down by 351 (-30%) from the peak TV height of 2014, which saw 1,175 scripted and unscripted shows on cable. 

Streaming originals may have hit their peak, up by 99 (+11%) to just shy of 1,000 originals. Looking ahead, there are a couple factors that may see streaming originals shrink a little in 2023. The first is the increasing pressure investors and Wall Street are putting on media companies to focus on profitable business units (i.e., TV) ahead of loss makers (i.e., streaming). This will likely see fewer originals launching on streaming services, instead being used to shore up the still in-the-black TV operations. 

The second is what has been hinted at by the likes of AMC Networks: Pivoting to niche streaming has not captured all of those exiting pay TV. This will likely see the amount of content put out by smaller streaming services shrink as they look to remain in business but cut costs where possible. 

A quick note on the broadcast networks: Their output remains relatively unchanged from what has been available annually for the last decade or so. 

When breaking out scripted and unscripted by each major source, what stands out is that the totals by overarching genre were effectively unchanged for all but scripted originals on SVOD services. With that market hypercompetitive and the new entrants in the last few years looking to attract an audience with big-name content, scripted SVOD shows rose by 101 over the last year, an increase of 20%. 

It’s a good bet that 2022 represents the final hurrah of the “peak TV” phenomenon. For the reasons outlined in this analysis, 2023 will see spend cutbacks and fewer shows produced, as well as a refocus on the still-profitable TV business. (Expect some streaming services to window content from TV for longer than one day after airing.) We will still see 1,700-plus shows across TV and streaming in 2023, but 2022 may be the lone year when peak TV broke through the 2,000-show barrier. 

Coming Dec. 22: How cable has changed since its peak TV output zenith