Peak TV Weakened by COVID, Shift to Streaming in 2020

End of Peak TV
Cheyne Gateley/VIP

Despite the dramatic increase in original TV programming coming out of streaming services new and old, total series volume is projected to decline in 2020. 

From prolific producers like Netflix to new market entries such as Peacock, a massive 51% increase is expected between Jan. 1 and Oct. 1 in 2020 versus the same period last year, according to data provided by Variety Insight. Regardless, an 8% decline will register for original TV over that time span because traditional TV is being drained by a combination of COVID-19 impacting show production and network groups pulling back on linear TV to focus on streaming. 

There were 1,284 shows with new episodes in 2019,  falling to 1,179 this year.

While streaming services will see an increase of 160 shows, the number of cable shows with new episodes in 2020 were down by 204 (-26%), with broadcast shows 61 fewer than in the same period in 2019 (a decline of -33%).

Not all of this decline is owed to COVID-19 hitting production and slowing schedules. Media congloms like NBCU, WarnerMedia and Disney have been diverting content that traditionally would have aired on their linear networks and instead are sending them to their streaming services. 

The change in available shows varies by format. On network TV, scripted shows were hit to a much greater degree than unscripted, with comedies down by -49% versus last year, dramas by -47%. The decline in comedies may be a reflection of the reported departure of independent studios Sony and Lionsgate from making new comedies for broadcast nets.

Percentage-wise, cable saw similar declines across the three major programming types. The hardest hit were cable dramas, which declined by -28% (29 fewer shows). Alternatively, Variety Insight’s tally for unscripted fare ranging from celebrity reality to cooking shows fell by -26% (or 159 titles), with comedies down some -22% (16 shows). 

Cable has been the real “victim” in the media-conglom migration from linear TV to streaming, with “FX on Hulu” and Peacock, to give two examples, seeing content that a few years ago would have been on FX or USA.

In contrast to traditional formats, streaming has boomed. The number of available originals has increased significantly each year, up by 35% in 2019. The increase has been seen across all formats, considerably boosted by the incursions into streaming by Apple TV+, Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock and Quibi.

There is a possibility that the relative paucity of traditional broadcast and cable network shows, contrasted with the variety of shows available on streaming services, will further shift consumer sentiment away from being part of the Pay-TV bundle

The value proposition of cable is being quickly eroded; while a pandemic wasn’t in anyone’s plans, the decision to cut originals was. If that decision ends up haunting the bigwigs at big media, they can’t blame coronavirus for a situation they partially caused.