Years in the past, presiding over a classy Tribeca brunch, Oscar-nominated actor Harvey Keitel gave my school mates and me a crash course in filmmaking. “Pay attention, man, regardless that we’re within the opening act of the twenty first Century, there are simply three belongings you want for an incredible film or TV present–the script, the script, and the script!” exclaimed the Hollywood legend. Again then was a golden age of movie and TV, however nobody may think about then that the exact same content material could be driving the largest hits for streamers in the present day. It’s executed simply that–and raised a troublesome query: Why is previous content material outperforming authentic new content material?
In 2022, streamers spent a whopping $23 billion on authentic new scripted content material. Though extra authentic content material is being produced than ever earlier than, few are watching it. Based on Nielsen, 12 of the highest 15 most watched titles on streaming platforms in 2022 have been licensed content material from years in the past, together with NCIS (2003), Cocomelon (2006), and The Simpsons (1989).
Furthermore, 12 of the highest 15 streaming films have been older theatrical releases from years previous like Frozen (2013). Even the earlier yr’s general chart noticed 11 previous licensed titles within the high 15 most streamed titles, together with New Woman (2011), Prison Minds (2005), and Gray’s Anatomy (2005).
Whereas Warner Bros. Discovery’s latest content material Shazam and Flash didn’t ignite the Field Workplace, the studio’s older content material is on a blazing blitzkrieg: 4 of the highest 15 most streamed titles are from the studio. The corporate’s extremely revered president of content material gross sales, David Decker, attributes that success to “a completely new era of followers have who found our deep library of beloved films and tv reveals. So, it is smart reveals from the previous are nonetheless closely consumed.”
Astonishingly, solely three new authentic titles made it onto 2022’s high 15 most-watched streamers chart–and even these have ties to the previous. Stranger Issues borrows scenes and themes straight from the well-known films of the Nineteen Eighties interval it’s set in. Ozark stars Nineteen Eighties teen heartthrob Jason Bateman and Wednesday is a by-product of the decades-old Addams Household franchise.
But not all new spinoffs from franchises flourish. Disney’s Toy Story prequel Lightyear and the most recent Ant-man stumbled on the field workplace, as did their new authentic Elemental. Regardless of heavy hype and a mammoth price range, the brand new Star Wars spinoff Mandalorian additionally didn’t crack the Prime 15 general most streamed chart. Whereas the decade-old animated sequence Bluey that Disney acquired for his or her streamer landed at #8.
Streamers notice they will’t depend on previous content material without end, which is why final yr noticed a record-breaking 600 new authentic scripted sequence produced within the U.S. It’s a stratospheric quantity with equally staggering budgets. Disney+ alone spent $25 million per episode throughout eight totally different sequence versus the normal common $3 million. But none made it onto 2022’s high streaming chart, making a content material paradox: greater doesn’t imply higher. And that’s not the one quandary of the brand new streaming age.
The dilemma of the writers’ strike
In Could 2023, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike, bringing new productions to a screeching halt. Whereas the writers’ demand for residual funds (as they acquired within the pre-streaming economics age) is greater than justified, they’ve misplaced a ton of leverage.
Writers are going through new challenges, such because the prospect of synthetic intelligence changing them sooner or later–however the business could make the purpose of poor scripts missing substance and content material from yesteryear being extra fashionable with audiences than in the present day’s content material. Therein lies the dilemma: You’ll be able to’t have hit content material with out nice writers–however in the present day’s writers aren’t producing hit content material.
When requested why new content material’s gold rush hasn’t spurred extra mega-hits, a significant expertise agent factors the finger at Silicon Valley. He accuses them of sacrificing high quality in a race to construct a big catalog to rival Hollywood’s 100-year head begin in films and TV.
Additional, the agent faults the tech titans’ data-driven strategy to creating content material. “Tech bros assume it should give them a Star Wars-like hit; and naturally when it bombs, they throw cash at it as a result of they will. They’re trillion-dollar corporations the place content material is a aspect hustle and subscriptions are king.”
One prime instance is Amazon’s $1 billion “Rings of Energy,” the most costly TV sequence in historical past. Critics name it poorly written. It was such a extremely criticized flop that Amazon turned off its buyer remark opinions. It additionally had a dismal 37% completion price, properly under the 50% threshold most streamers require for renewals. Even then, the present received renewed, there was no fallout at Amazon Studios, and the present’s creators made tens of millions.
Silicon Valley can’t take all of the dangerous rap for authentic new content material’s existential disaster. Traditionalists blame Mental Property (Transformers, Avengers, Barbie, Tremendous Mario) for dethroning creatives. Author-director Quentin Tarantino criticized “Hollywood’s fashionable period as one of many worst within the historical past of filmmaking.” Filmmaker Ridley Scott expressed contempt for the explosion of superhero films. And Director Martin Scorsese described it as “not actual cinema.”
Whether or not the onus lies with Hollywood, Silicon Valley or the writers themselves, different components could affect authentic content material’s reception, whether or not it’s the shortage of range that led to #OscarsStillSoWhite or the rise of anti-wokeness that triggered DeSantis’ battle on Disney.
Then there’s the rise of bland content material coined “peak redundancy,” artsy area of interest content material often called “status TV, and an excessive amount of content material termed “peak TV.”
Whoever’s the actual wrongdoer behind authentic new content material’s close to collapse, you’ll be able to wager Harvey Keitel is aware of the last word trigger. Earlier than the tip of that Tribeca brunch, he left us with the parting phrases, “Writers are the lifeblood of content material–always remember that.”
Aden Ikram is a content material licensing government who’s cheering for streamers’ authentic new content material to be hits. He additionally misses his New York school days of impromptu brunches with Harvey Keitel.
The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary items are solely the views of their authors and don’t essentially replicate the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.