Column | Serial makers are having a hard time

It can go fast. The acclaimed Elon Musk almost completely demolished the social media company Twitter in a week or two by recklessly slashing the workforce while introducing wild plans without thinking about the consequences. For example, one of his plans (blue ticks for everyone!) flooded Twitter with ‘verified’ fake accounts.

As chaotic as Musk’s management style may be, his approach is emblematic of the uncertain times in the media world. Costs are being cut everywhere, even in places where money and time previously seemed to play no role. With the streaming services, for example. The time of carelessness is over. This realization subsided further when I listened to the American series podcast The Watch. Presenters Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald talk enthusiastically about the latest top series, but they also often take time to discuss the state of the television industry. And the tone hasn’t been this cheerful for a while. Greenwald has experience, he made the series before briar patch. In a recent episode of the podcast, he notes that it’s a really bad time to be a writer (or “creative”). It’s harder than ever to pitch ideas in Hollywood, he says.

The streaming services are more merciless than ever: some series are already being canceled while they are still being made

That is a big change after a time when nothing seemed too crazy. The past ten years have been a golden period, one in which Netflix and the many other providers opened the doors to ambitious ideas. The deluge of high-quality series was unprecedented. Everyone from Amazon and Apple to Warner and Disney saw streaming as the future. All those companies wanted their own, eye-catching content as soon as possible. The results are still noticeable this year: new series like The Bear, Severance and Station Eleven are all excellent.

Growing up quickly was paramount: subscribers had to be acquired, the profit would come later. This year everyone seems to want to claim that profit.

Even Disney is currently losing a huge amount of money on its streaming service. Disney+ continued to grow nicely in the third quarter, but posted a loss of nearly $1.5 billion. Although Netflix, for example, is still making a profit, other companies are now also looking more closely at budgets. This also comes at the expense of creative risks. New ideas that are not linked to a ‘brand’ or franchise (think Marvel, Star Wars or Game of Thrones) are less likely to get through.

And the streamers are more ruthless than ever: some series are already being canceled while they are still being made. This happened with Netflix, for example, with Bad Crimesan animated series from successful creator Mike Judge (Beavis and Butt-Head and Silicon Valley). Despite the negative developments, there are still bright spots: according to Greenwald, there are still plenty of promising things to come in 2023 and it is still not impossible to get something made. As long as you can prove that your series brings in money. Guaranteed hits are always welcome at bookkeepers.

Thijs Schrek is a film and series critic.

Leave a Comment