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US original programming ‘to slump to lowest levels seen since Covid’, says Ampere

CONECTA FICTION: Spending on original and acquired content in the US has shrunk almost 10% in just one year – which will soon lead to the lowest levels of TV production seen since the Covid pandemic, new data from research firm Ampere Analysis claims.

Alice Thorpe

At a presentation on global TV trends here at the Conecta Fiction Entertainment event in Toledo, Spain, delegates heard that investment in programming was down from US$68.4bn in 2022 to US$61.9bn in 2023.

The downward trajectory reflects the unstable state of the content industry in the US, where major streaming companies have found subscriber numbers plateauing and profits falling below forecasted targets.

The rate of commissioning in the US dropped significantly in late 2022, with the downturn in new greenlights felt more keenly by the scripted sector than unscripted.

Scripted programming ordered in the US was down 24% from the second half of 2021 to the latter part of 2022 while unscripted dropped 12%.

The commissioning cutbacks come mostly from the SVoD and pay TV sectors, both down 21% from 2021 to 2022.

“Many global streaming platforms such as Netflix are reaching subscriber saturation point,” said Alice Thorpe, senior analyst at Ampere. “Key markets such as North America and Western Europe are tailing off.

“If you combine the impact of slowing subscriber growth with the economic headwinds we’re seeing right now, you can understand how that has impacted the amount of content which is being produced.

“Once a global streamer has reached saturation point in a particular market, it doesn’t make financial sense for them to continue to invest in producing more local original shows there.

“We’re beginning to see the impact of this already. In fact, if commissioning continues at these decreased levels, US audiences will have fewer TV shows to watch this time next year than ever before – on a par with, if not higher, than the impact of the Covid pandemic itself.”

The impact of the ongoing Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike is likely to exacerbate the situation, as scribes in the US continue to protest with few signs of the major studios agreeing to a resolution.

“The decreases in commissioning happened prior to the WGA strike,” said Thorpe. “So undoubtedly, the delays we’ve seen in the last month will impact the situation and lead to greater production backlogs.”

Ampere’s research shows there has been a significant shift in content spending models in recent years. In 2020, subscription streaming platforms were the dominant players, while in 2023 almost all the big streamers – Netflix, Amazon’s Prime Video, Max (fka HBO Max), Paramount+ and Disney+ – have recalibrated and moved to a hybrid model, adding ad-assisted tiers to their offerings.

However, despite overall constriction in the content market, Ampere suggest that there are opportunities for prodcos to exploit.

Squeezed budgets at all the major players means there is now high demand for unscripted programming.

Unscripted content now represents the bulk of new TV commissions globally, rising significantly from a 49% share in the first half of 2019 (with scripted at 51%) to a more dominant 64% in the latter part of 2022.

Documentary content is in big demand, with the ‘big five’ European nations – the UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy – producing more factual programming than ever.

“Western Europe far outstrips other regions in terms of unscripted production – with European pubcasters leading the way in the commissioning of this content,” said Thorpe.

“The sale of documentaries from Western Europe has increased dramatically. The key area of growth is at broadcasters’ own VoD platforms, which are now maturing beyond pure catch-up offerings and now offer a catalogue of content that caters to wide audiences.”

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