One of the recent pleasures of Twitter has been following television critics as they listen to network executives pitch their upcoming shows at the Television Critics Association (TCA) Press Tour. It can get you excited about what’s coming up next or, as often happens when critics have already seen the pilots, let you down.
This year, the two main themes of the tour were related. Peak TV, a term coined by FX CEO John Landgraf, defines the glut of so much good programming that it’s become hard for viewers to keep up or even know where to seek them out. (That’s why I still believe critics have a place.)
Meanwhile, NBC executive Alan Wurtzel bemoaned the fact that Netflix does not release rating numbers, suggesting that Netflix isn’t as successful as it claims.
In the era of Peak TV, that sounds like a lot of sour grapes. The broadcast networks are seeing declining viewership as more people cut their cable cords and find better options elsewhere. The Emmys are not necessarily the right barometers for quality television, but it’s telling that NBC did not receive one major nomination while HBO, Netflix and Amazon took home almost all the trophies.
Instead, the networks, such as NBC, only survive on live sports and other live events, such as the morning shows or award telecasts. Those are the only broadcasts in which the networks can sell high rates for advertising.
Peak TV is making winners of Netflix, HBO and Amazon.
The networks are stuck in an old paradigm, as eloquently pointed out by Netflix content officer Ted Sarandos at the TCA tour. He said that ratings, exactly what NBC is asking Netflix to announce, are what kill great programming. When you are a slave to them, you have to reach the broadest audience possible to make the numbers look good. So the programming becomes blander and blander.
For HBO and Netflix, they just want more subscribers. That’s the reason why HBO has bypassed cable networks to set up its own streaming service, HBO Now, and Netflix is streaming in countries all over the world. Both just want shows that people talk about.
As Sarandos said, “We make shows for two million viewers and we make shows for 20 million viewers.” That way, Netflix can continue with its surprisingly good Marvel series (“Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones”) or make the terrifying film “Beasts of No Nation.” It can also do Adam Sandler movies.
Wurtzel is missing the point. Peak TV means there are more options than Chicago Fire and viewers expect more. Bland is out and the networks will soon realize that ratings don’t tell the whole story. Wurtzel calling out Netflix just means that networks like NBC are still lost in a long-gone era.