Peak TV Is Dead. Long Live Peak Streaming

Peak TV Is Dead. Long Live
Cheyne Gateley/VIP+

One of the most bandied about industry phrases of the last decade was “peak TV,” the phenomenon of the seemingly limitless growth of original content on television. 

The rise of subscription streaming seemingly added rocket fuel to the concept, and in the last few years that has powered the overall increases in content as traditional TV has begun to pull back. 

With the first half of 2021 in the books, VIP looked at how peak-TV levels currently compare with recent years. The result: Streaming has seen tremendous growth, while cable TV continues to erode rapidly. (For a full list of which services and networks were included in each year below, click here.) 

The vast number of premium and complementary subscription services have seen the number of streaming shows increase by 86%, or 237, since 2019At the same time, cable shows have fallen by 28%, or 174. 

The scary thing is that in this analysis of data from Variety Insight, shows available both on a streaming platform and a TV network — think HBO/HBO Max, Showtime Anytime/Showtime direct-to-consumer (DTC) and Starz/Starz DTC — are excluded from streaming.  

If they were included, streaming’s increase would be even greater, with 44 more shows added to 2021 to date, for a grand total of 556. This is fast approaching the combined total for broadcast and cable, which is currently 568. 

Either by the end of 2021, or end of 2022 at the latest, streaming’s total output will eclipse that of traditional television. This is monumental and shouldn’t be understated. No one, save perhaps the sages in charge at Netflix, envisioned this when Hulu and Netflix began streaming in the pre-high-speed broadband era of the late 2000s. 

A major reason for this is a resource pullback from TV by traditional media companies. With Wall Street quick to judge a service based on looks and not what’s inside, media companies have opted for the reckless route and are beefing up their DTC services to try and convince TV subscribers they should also pay for a streaming service and a TV subscription. 

This has had predictable consequences, with pay-TV cancellations continuing to grow every quarter as the value proposition of cable TV has eroded quicker than the Louisiana coastline.  

TV networks have been able to keep increasing their monthly fees to offset the losses for now, but expecting this to continue forever would be the latest chapter in bubble mania. At some point soon, it’s all going to come crashing down, and it would be easily avoided if network heads opted to share their content rather than gate some on their SVODs. 

Broadcast networks are the one bright spot for networks, as they have all increased output since 2019. This is likely due to having an (older) audience less likely to hear the SVOD siren call. And with TV advertising still a profitable business, networks are trying to maintain this. 

Frankly, it is incredible that Netflix saw a decline of 37 shows versus 2020 (-17%) and still had an output over 6x that of the closest TV competitor in HGTV. Perhaps even more unbelievable is the fact that Netflix and Discovery+ combined accounted for 27% of all new series airing across TV and streaming for the first half of 2021. If you need a stat to show streaming’s dominance in the new world, it’s that.