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Global streamers’ original content spend will grow to $26.5 billion in 2023, up $3.3 billion, or 14 percent, from $23.2 billion last year, according to estimates from research firm Ampere Analysis. However, that is a marked slowdown from the $7.2 billion, or 45 percent, increase recorded from 2021 to 2022 as selectivity and austerity have come into industry-wide focus as management teams target profitability in the competitive space.
The 2023 estimate for Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Disney+, HBO Max and Paramount+ amounts to “more than a quarter of total original content expenditure worldwide,” Ampere analyst Neil Anderson wrote in a report. He explained that it marked “a slower rate of growth in investment than prior years, with streamers taking a more cautious approach to growing content spend budgets as they adjust to a more crowded streaming market.”
While love may be blind, unscripted programming, from documentaries and true crime docuseries to dating reality shows, isn’t a blindspot for streamers anymore. However, the vast majority of original content budgets of global streamers so far continue to go into scripted fare, according to Ampere.
It estimates that the global streamers will spend 88 percent of their original programming outlays, or $23.4 billion on scripted titles in 2023, which is “a similar level to previous years,” Ampere tells THR. The other $3.1 billion will go to unscripted fare. For 2022, its estimates amounted to $20.4 billion, or 88 percent, and $2.8 billion. For 2021, Ampere listed scripted original spend at $13.7 billion, or 86 percent, with unscripted accounting for $2.3 billion.
“While scripted programming remains the bedrock of investment, there has been recent growth in unscripted commissioning, with the number of unscripted projects from global SVODs rising by 35 percent in 2022,” Anderson also noted in his report though. However, this “growing unscripted commissioning activity has not resulted in a redirection of spend,” Ampere tells THR. The fact that reality programming is cheaper also plays into that equation.
That is among the drivers of an expected further expansion of unscripted offerings, particularly reality content. “As the competition in the streaming industry continues to grow, platforms must continue to explore cost-effective unscripted formats to keep audiences engaged, emphasizing the importance of balancing quality and affordability in optimizing content strategies,” Anderson highlighted in his report.
For example, true crime documentaries have traditionally been the key focus of Netflix’s unscripted output, but it has also shown “interest in social experiment and dating reality titles, such as The Circle and Love Is Blind, as well as testing the appetite for live streaming among its subscriber base with live comedy specials,” the Ampere expert noted.
Netflix last year advised its staff to “spend our members’ money wisely” and has not renewed shows that it felt were underperforming. Wall Street analysts have warned more broadly that streamers can’t “light money on fire.”
Anderson’s report also looked at the top genres on which streamers spend original programming money. Crime and thriller fare, such as Disney+ series Only Murders in the Building, Amazon’s Bosch and Netflix’s Money Heist, accounts for an estimated 24 percent of original content spending of streamers, with Anderson explaining that they “appeal to subscribers across age groups and are highly portable across borders.”
Sci-fi and fantasy titles, from Netflix’s Stranger Things and The Witcher and Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power to Disney+ hit The Mandalorian, draw a share of 20 percent of original programming spend. Ampere noted that they drive consumer engagement and subscriber acquisition.
According to the firm’s report, comedy is the third biggest programming category for global streamers in terms of original spend (13 percent), followed by kids/family content (10 percent), drama (8 percent), romance (7 percent), action/adventure (7 percent), documentaries (6 percent), reality (3 percent) and entertainment (1 percent).
Earlier in the week, SVB MoffettNathanson analyst Michael Nathanson predicted content spending by media giants would stabilize this year amid a more cautious approach to streaming programming outlays. “Wall Street’s attitude towards streaming has now largely reversed course as more skeptics raise the question of whether streaming is a good business,” he explained. “In turn, companies are no longer willing to spend whatever it takes, in part because attitudes and strategies have shifted and rationalized, but also because their balance sheets no longer have what it takes. After two years of strong double-digit content spending growth, we foresee a flattening in 2023.”
Total media industry content cash spend rose 14 percent to $134.6 billion in 2022 after a 25 percent jump to $118.4 billion in 2021, he noted, citing company reports and his firm’s estimates and analysis. For 2023, he forecast a 1 percent gain to $136.4 billion. Content spend in the coming years was likely to be “relatively flat or even decline,” he argued.
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