Netflix has been roundly criticized in some quarters after announcing a spate of cancellations, including fan favorites such as Sense8.
These cancellations are set to continue too, with CEO Reed Hastings recently saying:
“We’ve cancelled very few shows. I’m always pushing the content team: ‘We have to take more risk; you have to try more crazy things. Because we should have a higher cancel rate overall.”
And you know what? He’s absolutely right. Netflix should be cancelling the shows no one is watching, and here are all the reasons why.
Netflix Exists to Make Money
While bingeing on shows or searching for the latest movies, it’s easy to forget that Netflix is driven by one thing: money. You probably don’t even notice the $9.99 per month leaving your bank account. After all, Netflix is good value, right?
Unlike commercial networks, you don’t see advertisements. You don’t have to skip the boring parts because you won’t see a minute-long endorsement for a vacuum cleaner. Nonetheless, the popularity of shows is what dictates fees on Netflix.
Popular series generally mean more subscribers, and the more viewers there, the longer fees can remain comparatively cheap. This is why Netflix is always keen to promote its original Marvel series so heavily: Marvel has a massive following who will join Netflix purely to follow the adventures of Luke Cage and co.
Netflix isn’t entirely free of advertising though — it’s just not in a form that’s instantly recognizable.
Without heavy-hitting shows such as Stranger Things, Netflix couldn’t command high rates for product placements.
In case you’re unfamiliar with that term, it’s a clever technique used across the film and TV industry in which brands pay for their products to have screen time. Notably, the 24th James Bond film, Spectre, hit headlines for the number of brands seen throughout, including the Aston Martin DB10, Heineken, and the Sony Xperia Z5 smartphone. Indeed, without these product placements, the film wouldn’t have been made at all.
If you see an Apple Mac being used in Daredevil, that’s no coincidence.
We expect ordinary networks to cancel shows in order to satisfy advertisers and critics, so why should we think Netflix is any different?
You Need to Stop Caring About Shows
There might be an answer to that question here. Society encourages us all to get too attached to shows. Just look at the dedicated followings for shows like Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, and Star Trek. Until Star Trek: Discovery, the latter hasn’t produced new content for TV since Enterprise concluded in 2005. But the Star Trek fandom loves it so much that long breaks don’t damage the brand.
Your GIFs, fan art, and “shipping” of characters is great for Netflix because it drums up extra publicity for its various series.
It’s entirely necessary for shows that don’t have a massive following to be cancelled. You’d expect it from ABC and the BBC, so you should expect it from Netflix too.
The Get Down, Hemlock Grove, and Richie Rich came and went, and very few people cared. While The Get Down was acclaimed, it couldn’t justify its reported $120 million budget.
i'm watching Hemlock Grove and i feel like i'm suppose to have read the book or something bc im so confused… i'm missing something.
— Abber's Cadaver (@ajkpickles) July 26, 2017
Now that Netflix has 100 million subscribers, it has to cater for a wide range of tastes, but equally, if it spreads itself too thinly, finances will suffer. On the whole, it has to run with the narratives that prove the most popular and, by extension, the most financially sound. It’s survival of the fittest.
Of course you might have grown attached to a particular show, but at least be grateful that Netflix made it in the first place. You can rewatch the episodes that exist again and again. Meanwhile, the streaming service attempts to find another narrative that works for a bigger slice of its audience, including you.
Don’t be sad about what’s been and gone: look to the future with optimism.
Netflix Values Quality Over Quantity
Having said all of that, for every unpopular show, there’s a cancellation that hits hard.
Sense8 is a perfect example of this. However much you care for a series, we need to admit that they all have short shelf lives. The strictures of the format mean burnout is inevitable.
Yes, even the ever-changing Doctor Who. Its format and ability to adapt has kept it popular since 1963, but it had to survive a 16-year hiatus. As society shifts, so must shows. The TV industry wasn’t especially welcoming to science fiction in the early 2000s, but for its 2005 revival, audiences were largely receptive to such escapist forms of entertainment again.
Personal burnout is a factor too. A show becomes unrecognizable to you, or the producers make a decision that goes against your idealized view of the show. Narratives have their limitations, and we need to accept that.
Surely it’s preferable that a show be cancelled before it morphs into something you no longer recognize as the show you fell in love with.
All networks are guilty of dragging a show out for too long, just for profits. Take, for example, The Simpsons, which I love. But compare “Lisa the Vegetarian” to “Lisa Goes Gaga,” and you’ll see how the mighty have fallen.
Fed up with The Simpsons being used as an example of this? Okay, try: Dexter, Lost, The Office (US), Nip/Tuck, Heroes, Family Guy, or CSI and its 300 spin-offs (rough estimate). They all got gradually worse as time went on.
I’d much rather see a show end in a just manner than have it tainted by quality issues.
Interestingly, Netflix responded to fan outrage over Sense8‘s ending by commissioning a two-hour finale. And despite being the service’s most expensive drama, Netflix intends to continue The Crown until it reaches a natural conclusion.
These go to show that the company respects the importance of narrative closure.
Social Media Holds the Key
Any publicity is good publicity. There’s an argument to be made that Netflix values people talking about its shows more than actual viewing figures, though the former informs the latter. Sounds mad, right?
Netflix’s intention has always been to make a cultural impact: the more it’s seen as one of the go-to providers for entertainment, the better its bottom line. Not only does it enjoy being the top streaming service, but it also likes to be seen as the best.
This accounts for Iron Fist — not critically acclaimed, but a lot better than many naysayers will have you believe. It got a lot of people talking, however, both positively and negatively, and that resulted in it being the most-binged Netflix show of its Marvel offerings so far in 2017.
And because of this, Iron Fist has been renewed for a second season.
Sure, some of the audience will have watched on the basis of “it’s so bad, it’s good.” But equally, the number of social media expressions to its name makes it very unlikely that those viewers are its core audience.
Similarly, the interest generated in Daredevil Season 2 has led to the commission of a Punisher show.
But if social impact is held in high-esteem — indeed, enough to save a show that’s been panned otherwise — the lack of networking interest in a series is a final death knell. If you live by the sword, you die by the sword, and social media has a considerable blade to wield.
Without a vocal following, Netflix has to drum up publicity. Of course, all brands need to do that, but consumers are more sceptical of this than about enthusiastic viewers. When Netflix is the only source of noise, the show hasn’t generated any extra interest in the service as a whole. That’s worse than negative press.
Netflix Is Now More Like a TV Network
Part of the issue here is a shift in Netflix’s main agenda. This is best encapsulated by Chief Content Officer, Ted Sarandos, who said:
“The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us.”
This means Netflix doesn’t want to be seen solely as a place to watch content produced by other companies for other networks. It wants to be a serious contender in creating original TV shows and films, often at the expense of having an extensive catalog. That’s been the plan for a long time, but perceptions of Netflix have largely remained the same.
Netflix has every right to cancel whatever shows it wants. And doing so really just solidifies as reputation as being a TV network and not just a service where old shows go to die.
Are you upset about Netflix cancelling its original shows? Would you prefer Netflix to shift its focus back to recycled content? Or should Netflix swing the ax on more shows as it bids to cater to more viewers with more diverse tastes? The comments are open below.
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