Watching for the Programming Apocalypse

Taylor Schilling in “Orange Is the New Black,” from Netflix.

More than 23 years after Bruce Springsteen lamented 57 channels with nothing on, viewers in 2015 will be able to see some 400 original scripted series on hundreds of broadcast, basic cable, pay cable and online services. As recently as 2009, the comparable number of series was around half that.

So it’s reasonable to ask, as many are: Could the programming bubble be about to burst? Even some of the pessimists aren’t so sure.

“I don’t think the end is nigh; I think change is nigh,” said John Landgraf, the head of FX Networks, qualifying a prediction before TV writers last month that this year or next “will be the peak year for the counts of original programming.”

“I think the fact that the greatest increase in programming is being made by a group of businesses that have no advertising is testament to the fact that we’re in the middle of dramatic ecosystemic change,” he said in an interview.

Perhaps that is why Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, shied away from saying the ad-free, subscription streaming service was close to hitting a wall on producing new series.

“We’ve not seen one yet,” Mr. Sarandos said. “I don’t know that there isn’t one, but we haven’t seen one yet. Because we don’t disclose ratings, we’ve said if you really want to measure the success of these shows, you should measure our net subscriber growth around the world.” And that continues to be robust.

There’s some question of what a retreat would look like. “I think you’ll see it in media consolidation over time — more likely than people just saying, ‘We’re no longer going to do this,’” Mr. Sarandos said. “I think they’ve had enough success signals.”

Those success signals are why new players keep entering the marketplace. Two years ago, WGN was best known as the home of Chicago Cubs games. Now “Salem” and “Manhattan” have been renewed, while two new series, “Outsiders” and “Underground,” are coming up for what has been rebranded as WGN America.

WGN America’s president and general manager, Matt Cherniss, said changing viewer habits made calculated risks worthwhile for upstarts. “I don’t think the audience goes: ‘Where is that? I don’t watch that channel,’” Mr. Cherniss said. “I think they’ll go wherever they need to, to find the content that they’re interested in. So in that sense there’s a lot less work needed to convince the audience that new, great programming can be anywhere.”

That helps explain why the Sony-owned streaming service Crackle lured top talent, including Dennis Quaid and Kate Bosworth, for its first original drama, “The Art of More,” set against the backdrop of the high-stakes auction world. As Netflix has done with its series, Crackle wooed the “Art of More” team by pledging a 10-episode order without the typical proving stage of a pilot episode. The hope is that “Art of More” will let Crackle brand itself as more than the home of an original “Joe Dirt” sequel.

Mr. Cherniss said distinctive original programming was the cornerstone of WGN America’s new branding, even if it has also been trumpeting its syndicated repeats of “Person of Interest” and “Elementary.”

“If you don’t have anything that makes you unique, if you don’t have anything that you can call your own, what are you at the end of the day?” Mr. Cherniss said. “I think that time has passed that you can build that identity off of other people’s programs.”

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