Hollywood has been frozen by its first writers’ strike in 15 years. Hundreds of late-night shows, sitcoms and drama productions are on hold as unions representing more than 11,000 writers demand better pay. But the volume of shows on air means the effects of the strike will not be as noticeable as last time.
In 2022, a record 599 scripted US TV shows aired, according to data from FX Networks Research. This is more than double the number 10 years earlier. Viewers without fresh content can wade through the backlog.
Commissioning bloat stems from the rise in well-funded streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+ and Peacock, desperate for content to hook subscribers. The streaming wars have pushed up spending. Amazon’s Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power series, which launched to tepid reviews, reportedly cost a record $1bn.
Now that customers have become more selective about monthly subscriptions and investors more picky about cash burn, spending will flatten. Moffett Nathanson research predicts media industry spending to top $136bn this year, up just 1 per cent year over year. That compares to a 14 per cent increase between 2021 and 2022. Netflix expects to spend about $17bn, the same as last year.
Quality has not kept pace with volume. Two-thirds of people questioned by Ipsos and NPR said there were too many streaming services. Deloitte research found millennials, the cohort most likely to have a streaming subscription, were quick to switch providers when they grew bored.
In the first three months of the year, Disney reported a 4mn drop in subscriber numbers — its second consecutive fall. Last year, Netflix also reported a decline — though it reversed that trend with the introduction of cheaper tiers.
Cutting costs and improving commissions is a perennial target for streaming services. But there are some simple steps the sector can take when writers return to work. Swapping binge-able TV series for episodes released one by one would be a start.
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