FX chief talks strategy for 'too much TV' era

john landgraf tca

The television industry is undergoing a "major transformation, one might even say disruption," FX Networks chief John Landgraf said on Wednesday, outlining various strategies legacy media outlets will have to pursue to weather competition from Silicon Valley players that seek to "grind the margins out of brands."

The remarks were delivered at the TV Critics Assn. tour in Beverly Hills, an event notable for what has become the FX CEO's annual report on the state of "too much TV," since he first raised the issue two years ago. Those original comments prompted pushback from, among others, Netflix, which argued there's "no such thing as too much TV" as long as consumers are well served by the abundance.

Once again, Landgraf quantified the glut: 455 scripted series in 2016 -- more than double the total from several years ago -- with the current year running slightly ahead of that pace, with 342 series thus far.

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Landgraf's prepared presentations sought to connect the forces strafing the entertainment industry to larger economic and cultural trends, including deregulation and consolidation.

All that fed into his argument that, strictly on financial terms, the existing business model can't support its level of production, which will eventually lead to an inevitable shakeout. The TV business, he said, is heading "from an optimal number of shows to an unmanageable number of shows."

There have already been signs of retrenchment by some smaller cable networks, which have found it difficult to survive. Landgraf predicted a "culling" process, saying that existing players are "going to have to evolve with the times."

Related: Disney to pull content from Netflix

One part of that evolution has been a shift toward studios launching their own pay services, such as CBS All Access and the announcement by Disney (DIS) on Tuesday that it would sever ties with Netflix (NFLX, Tech30) while introducing its own streaming outlets.

Similarly, FX's upcoming FX+ -- a new service that offers commercial-free access to an array of the network's series past and present, for $6 a month -- will make its debut via Comcast (CCV) on September. 5.

Landgraf called that move toward such stand-alone pay ventures "a very significant reordering of the structure of television," adding, "I don't think anybody knows for sure where that trend finally sorts out."

FX has also sought to capitalize on content distribution beyond its networks, recognizing the shift in consumption patterns. That said, Landgraf noted that FX has generally bucked the cord-cutting trend, holding steady at just over 90 million subscribers, with spinoff channel FXX gaining to 85 million.

Landgraf said competition from streaming services like Netflix and Amazon has produced a "truly daunting" increase in volume, while putting a strain on existing pools of talent and amplifying marketing challenges.

Asked about the future of "Louie," the acclaimed FX comedy starring and produced by Louis C.K., Landgraf said it was "possible" there would never be another season, or that the comic might wind up doing four or five spread over the next few decades.

Louis C.K. is producing several other series, including FX's "Baskets" and "Better Things." During a separate session for the latter, Louis C.K. said he didn't see doing "Louie" again in its old form, saying he's at a different stage than when he began the series.

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