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From left, Hamish Linklater, Anthony Boyle, Lovie Simone, Monica Beletsky, Brandon Flynn and Matt Walsh promote the Apple TV+ series Manhunt during the Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour on Feb. 5, in Pasadena, Calif.Willy Sanjuan/The Associated Press

The overwhelming number of TV series and streaming platforms may be narrowed down sooner than we think. That was one of the major takeaways from Pasadena, Calif., this month, when the Television Critics Association held its 10-day winter press tour.

The biannual event, in which media companies present press conferences and interview opportunities to North American TV critics and journalists, has been a key information-gathering event since its first run in 1984.

In addition to hearing executive messaging and schedule hype, the TCA tour is an opportunity for those who write about the industry to read between the lines, engage with talent they may not otherwise cover, and change their minds about a new series’ promise if a panel is particularly engaging.

It’s also a chance to be 100-per-cent absorbed in the beat for a steady period and to uncover industry trends and patterns. Based on the most recent TCA press tour, here are five things to look for in TV land over the next six months.

Peaked TV

A TCA highlight for anyone in attendance is the keynote address from John Landgraf, chairman of FX Networks, a Disney subsidiary. Executives aren’t always keen to sit on stage while critics pepper them with questions, but Landgraf is the exception. Often dubbed the smartest man in television, Landgraf is the one who coined the term Peak TV to describe the onslaught of shows in the new streaming era. And he’s been incorrectly predicting its demise for the past couple of years.

Peaked TV is now here, Landgraf triumphantly revealed during the Disney General Entertainment portion of TCA. The exec flashed a chart revealing that the number of scripted programs in the U.S. had decreased 14 per cent year-over-year in 2023, to 514 from 600.

According to FX’s research team the trend will continue, with original series on track to decrease 31 per cent this year. Landgraf acknowledged that some of the projected decline is fallout from the Hollywood strikes and delays, but said that the numbers are still “directionally accurate.”

Rumours, rumours, rumours

Sometimes at TCA, a good way to tell how things are going is to look at which media companies take part and how. On the heels of HBO Max and Discovery+ merging into Max, and Showtime folding into Paramount+, neither Warner Bros. Discovery nor Paramount Global presented. (Although Warner Bros. Studios did hold set visits toward the end of the tour.)

The companies’ absences fuelled rumours about their potential merger, and left many critics lamenting the loss of innovative HBO programming. Some felt Paramount+ and Pluto TV missed the opportunity to tout their impressive libraries and garner publicity for their titles, while others speculated their lack of presence confirmed more financial struggles ahead.

Media companies doing all the things

Conversely, Disney was a major TCA player, with panels for National Geographic, Hulu, Disney+, ABC, Onyx Collective, FX and Disney Branded Television. The company took up 3½ of the 10 days with a consistent message: Successful media companies are no longer only streaming, network or broadcast. The ones that will survive can tap into all three.

At his executive session, Disney Television Group president Craig Erwich cited Only Murders in the Building as an example of a show that has been a hit on multiple platforms. It has generated millions of viewing hours on Hulu since its 2021 debut. And earlier this year, the first of the show’s three seasons aired on ABC, where it reached more than 11 million additional unique viewers. From there, the streaming hours on Hulu grew even more, with a 40-per-cent increase in first streams.

“It underscores how these platforms are additive and complementary to one another,” Erwich said. “As we evolve the broadcast model, this is something we will look to do again.”

An influx of limited series

Many critics groan when creators use the term, “eight, nine, 10-hour” to describe their TV project, but short, limited runs remain a big trend. Eligible titles such as True Detective, Palm Royale, Fargo, Feud, The Veil, Shogun, Clipped, The Regime and Manhunt will stack the limited-series category at this year’s Emmys with notable big screen stars including Jodie Foster, Demi Moore and Kate Winslet up for nominations.

This landscape is partially owing to evolving audiences that no longer wish to sit through weekly episodes of a show and gamble on unknown talent. The instant gratification nature of today’s tech also means that television series no longer run for multiple seasons, since there’s always something newer and shinier to check out.

With so much competition, shows that don’t immediately hit with viewers aren’t always given as much runway to develop and catch on. That’s particularly true if there’s no second-run window on a complementary streamer or network within the company.

The other reason we’ll see so many limited series in 2024 goes back to last year and the strikes. Executives initially planned to spread many of these coming titles over the next couple of years, but with delays and the inability to produce new content they needed to fill more immediate schedules.

The continuation of TV criticism

Love or hate TV critics, research shows they play a more important role than ever in helping audiences find and engage with series. According to Hub Entertainment, a consumer research company specializing in television viewing habits, people are pickier than ever about the shows they spend time with. They want to ensure success before they invest their time, which potentially gives critically acclaimed projects a longer tail end.

“People do a lot more research on the shows before they watch them,” Hub Entertainment principal Jon Giegengack said at the TCA tour, adding that viewers don’t trust the recommendations they get from platforms’ algorithms.

“Sixty per cent of viewers say they seek out shows that have awards and have gotten good critical reviews,” he continued. “The work critics are doing is a critical guidepost for viewers today in terms of helping them sift through all of this content and figuring out where they will spend the finite amount of time they have to watch TV.”

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