Quantity vs. Quality: Increase in Volume of Scripted Television Sparks Debate
For the past several years, we have been in a golden age of television. Beginning with pioneering shows such as The Sopranos and The Wire, terrific television has continued on with currently running shows like Game of Thrones and Fargo. This success has caused the amount of shows produced to increase, but that doesn’t mean they’re all meeting the standards set by networks like HBO and FX.
In fact, the problem is that they aren’t meeting those high standards. Quantity and quality seem to be negatively correlated in the television industry. As volume increases, quality decreases.
By the end of this year, there will be close to 450 scripted television shows on air. This would break yet another record for program volume. In 2015, there were 417 shows, nearly double the 210 shows that were running in 2009, FX’s research department says.
Through July of this year, 322 scripted shows were broadcast. This reflects a 6% rise from the 304 shows running at this point last year. Interestingly, basic and premium cable networks are fairly steady in their program output year over year. This increase is coming all from one section of the market, streaming services.
The streaming service output is absolutely booming, more than doubling at this point year over year. To date, 49 new shows have debuted this year, compared to only 24 last year.
According to statistics revealed at a Television Critics Association media event in Beverly Hills, California on Tuesday, Netflix currently has 71 shows that are either available or that have been announced. To put this in perspective, that’s more than the announced future output of HBO, Showtime, Starz and FX combined.
Some say this poses no issue whatsoever. Proponents of this increased output argue that it is the industry’s duty to provide viewers with as much choice as possible. On the other hand, some say that instead of mass output, networks should focus on making fewer shows that are higher in quality. This, they say, will be the best way to ensure that shows are being made which viewers will enjoy.
The latter argument seems to have more merit for a couple of simple reasons. For one, ratings overall have been declining in the industry. John Landgraf, chief executive of FX Networks, used the supply and demand concept to voice his concerns. He says that there was a greater supply of television “than can be produced profitably given the demand and the business model.”
The second reason is found in an example made by Netflix. When the popular streaming service first began creating new shows, they started slow. They produced critically acclaimed programs such as Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. Since then, they have more than doubled their output, producing shows that hardly get noticed and receive mediocre if not negative reviews from fans as well as critics.
This is an economic issue. The more you produce, the less likely you are to produce something of high quality. Also, you can only produce as much as is needed to satisfy demand. Anything beyond that is useless.
The streaming services like Netflix and Hulu that are responsible for this will soon face facts. They cannot continue down this path if they want their original shows to maintain their reputation. If they don’t make a change, they will not only hurt themselves but perhaps even bring the whole television industry down with them as viewers refuse to even give new shows a chance.