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What We're Watching: Is This the Golden Age of Television?

August 12, 2016
TV screen: Is this the golden age of television? And what companies are producing the most popular shows?

Once reviled as “the boob tube” for its mindless programming, television now boasts some of the best dramas out today.

Whether it’s Orange is the New Black on Netflix (NFLX), Game of Thrones on HBO, which is a division of Time Warner (TWX), The Walking Dead on AMC Networks (AMCX), or any number of other shows playing right now, television critics have dubbed the past several years as the Golden Age of Television.

Several production companies are making high-quality TV content these days, besides the well-known behemoths like HBO, Netflix, and AMC. Amazon (AMZN) is creating original content, and channels like Starz (STRZA) and Discovery Communications (DISCA) also have original programming. Quality TV is not limited to streaming or cable. On broadcast TV, another hit show is Empire, shown on FOX Television (FOX).

Rounding out the list of firms creating original programming for the little screen are some names best known for creating hit movies, like Viacom (VIA) and The Walt Disney Company (DIS). Scripps Networks Interactive (SNI) also creates original television content.

With so many of these companies publicly traded, it might be as enjoyable spending time analyzing a production company for a portfolio as watching their shows.

Quality Programming Isn’t Cheap

But high-quality TV doesn’t come cheap. Netflix said it plans to spend $5 billion this year on programming.

HBO is known for spending lavishly on its TV shows. According to Entertainment Weekly, the average cost per episode for the recently completed sixth season of HBO’s wildly popular Game of Thrones series was more than $10 million.

Meanwhile, Boardwalk Empire cost $5 million an episode, while Deadwood was $4.5 million, said TV Cheat Sheet.

But the gravy train sometimes pulls into the station, as high production costs can lead to a show’s downfall. HBO’s 2005 to 2007 series Rome included fine details to bring the ancient city to life, but it also cost $9 million per episode, which ultimately killed the show, according to The Richest.

Can the Trend in TV Last?

The question is whether this “golden age” can continue. Right now it seems that show buyers are willing to shell out for scripted TV, but who’s buying and for how much is changing. At the National Association of Television Program Executives convention in January, there were some worries, according to Fortune.

Some television executives, such as FX Network’s John Landgraf, told TV critics last year in a widely reported story that he wondered if there will be enough creative talent to fulfill the needs of high-quality programming. His concern is that story quality may begin to suffer if there isn’t enough talent to go around.

Still, others said TV viewing is changing, so the metrics themselves may be changing. After all, it wasn’t until high-speed Internet arrived in most people’s homes that streaming video became a reality. That’s made Netflix and Amazon into big players—as big as Time Warner or AMC—in a short time.

And more competition may come in the future in the form of new, technology-savvy producers. But for now, the trend has been friendly for stocks related to television.

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