American television viewers have become accustomed to it: Dozens of premieres every month, hundreds of shows every year, a guarantee from Hollywood that there's always going to be something new to watch.
But a new reality has become increasingly clear over the past few months in Hollywood: Peak TV has peaked.
The number of adult scripted series ordered by TV networks and streaming companies aimed for U.S. audiences fell by 24% in the second half of last year, compared with the same period of the year before last, according to Ampere Analysis, a research firm. Compared with 2019, it is a 40% drop.
For years, television executives tossed off billions of dollars on TV series to help build out their streaming services and chase subscribers.
But Wall Street soured on the buy-at-any-cost strategy starting in the spring, when Netflix, the streaming powerhouse, announced that it had lost subscribers for the first time in a decade. Netflix's stock nose-dived, and other entertainment companies soon watched their share prices fall, too. Hollywood companies quickly shifted, putting a new emphasis on higher profits instead of raw subscriber counts.
Then, in recent months, entertainment companies became increasingly anxious about a slowing economy, the cord-cutting movement and a troublesome advertising market. Since the summer, scores of executives have abruptly been dismissed, strict cost-cutting measures have been adopted, and layoffs have taken hold throughout the industry.
For the year, the deepest declines in the number of orders for scripted adult series in the United States were at Netflix, Warner Bros. Discovery (which includes HBO and the Turner networks) and Paramount (which includes CBS, Paramount+ and Showtime). The series orders for U.S. audiences have fallen 22% to 27% at those three companies, according to Ampere. In the second half of the year, the drop-off in orders from the three companies was even steeper.
There are a few outliers to this year's trend: Apple TV+ and Amazon have increased the number of adult scripted series they have purchased this year. So has Disney, according to Ampere's research.
In addition to TBS and TNT, digital giants like Facebook and YouTube, which were investing in original series just a few years ago, have mostly moved on. The CW, which was recently acquired by Nexstar, is looking for lower-cost programming. And there are numerous basic cable networks that in recent years have pulled back from original scripted programming ambitions.