Is the Party Over for Peak TV?
Lately, America’s biggest entertainment conglomerates have participated in a sometimes agita-inducing quarterly ritual of revealing their latest financial results to the Wall Street community. Their performances have been mixed. Disney—once again led by smooth-talking CEO Bob Iger—said it lost subscribers at Disney+ for the first time during the last three months of 2022, as its streaming division totaled more than $1 billion in losses, and prepared to lay off 7,000 people in a broader effort to slash costs. Warner Bros. Discovery, whose one-year anniversary is approaching, fared slightly better, reporting small gains at HBO Max, where aggressive efforts to rein in spending last year led to smaller streaming losses. “We took bold, decisive action over the last 10 months, and the bulk of our restructuring is behind us,” CEO David Zaslav assured investors. Netflix, meanwhile, reported that efforts to stanch last year’s subscriber nosedive, which spooked the entire industry, has been working. Projecting confidence as the company’s stock recovers from the great plunge of 2022, co-CEO Ted Sarandos promised, “It’s an enormous amount of growth ahead.”
Executives’ once jubilant tones that prevailed over the early days of the streaming wars, however, have been notably absent from these carefully choreographed announcements. In this latest installment of Inside the Hive, Vanity Fair senior media correspondent Joe Pompeo and Hollywood correspondent Natalie Jarvey talk what comes post–Hollywood’s peak TV era (which may very well have actually peaked last year with a head-spinning total of nearly 600 scripted series). As an ominous New York Times headline suggested at the end of 2022: “Streaming’s Golden Age Is Suddenly Dimming.“
There are certainly signs that the sun is setting on the golden age of streaming. For the last few years, media companies invested billions to try and catch up with super-spending Netflix. But the streaming pioneer’s rough 2022 prompted every player with a competitive service to question whether it’s actually worth chasing subscriber growth at all costs. FX chairman John Landgraf, who calculates how many series Hollywood unleashes each year, recently predicted that the number of shows will start to fall in 2023 as companies pull back on their content budgets.
The cutbacks have led to a confusing few months for viewers who, until recently, have enjoyed the spoils of the streaming wars. Buzzy shows like Westworld and Super Pumped are being pulled from streaming services. Netflix is cracking down on password sharing. And it’s more complicated than ever to figure out which streamer you need to pay for to watch a hit series like, say, Yellowstone. The uncertainty in Hollywood is also creating anxiety for the people who make all this entertainment. TV writers, already frustrated that streaming has shaken up how they get paid, are worried that fewer shows will mean fewer jobs, and as a May 1 deadline for their union contract looms, some are agitating for a strike that could shut down much of Hollywood.
It’s all enough to wonder: Is the streaming party over? Listen to the episode and let us know what you think.