From BoJack Horseman to Sense8, Netflix is notorious for canceling shows. After the recent Cowboy Bebop cancellation, fans of the anime were certainly disappointed. Those who did not like the live-action series had the option of not watching it but those who did enjoy it will not have the chance of it seeing the light of day. So, why does Netflix cancel shows?
To break this down, we’ll have to understand the type of shows available on Netflix. With a platform offering over 15k titles, the content it boasts is certainly diverse.
The late 2000s and early 2010s were the most ambitious time for Netflix. The platform was undergoing massive changes that would redefine this company as a whole. This is also when Netflix came to produce its own shows that would come to be known as Netflix Originals. 2013-14 was the time period when Netflix began producing its first originals like House of Cards, Orange Is The New Black and BoJack Horseman. Today, of course, the platform also purchases many shows and renews them on its own with the most recent and popular example being Cobra Kai, purchased from YouTube.
While these essentially come under the “Netflix Original” category, they’re not quite so. They don’t completely belong to the platform but are shared by other production houses as well. Netflix and CBC co-produced Anne With An E and is a great example for this type of titles available on the streaming platform.
Then come other shows that Netflix licenses. These do not belong to the platform as intellectual property. Netflix simply enters into a Digital Exploitation Agreement or Film Distribution Agreement with the producer. These shows are the ones that Netflix frequently takes off and on the platform. The Office and FRIENDS are great examples of licenses shows. When these two shows went off Netflix, the platform had to deal with the mass outcry from dedicated fans.
Hence, Netflix cannot “cancel” these licensed series, per se. The platform only has rights limited to the distribution of these titles. The shows that Netflix cancels are either co-productions or its sole productions, meaning that it is only Netflix Originals that the platform can cancel.
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Now that we have made clear what kind of shows there are on Netflix, this brings us to the question you clicked on this article looking for an answer for:
Despite being highly dependent on data, Netflix keeps all of its information super discreet. The platform never releases its viewership numbers to the public. The recent top 10 lists available on the platform are the first time the platform has made public its streaming numbers. This secrecy makes it difficult for any viewer to understand whether or not a series will get renewed. This is the reason why fans anticipate official news of a show’s renewal after the release of a new season.
At the TCA Press Tour in 2018, vice president of the Netflix Original programming, Cindy Holland talked to WIRED about why the platform cancels shows. According to her, the biggest factor Netflix considers to renew a show is whether a show is “getting enough viewership to justify the cost of the series.”
Considering how business is done, this rule certainly makes sense. One would only invest in a company when they’re sure that they will get a decent ROI plus profits as a reward for their hard work. With shows like Stranger Things, Money Heist, or The Crown, the costs were high without question. But so were the returns and hence, it made perfect sense to keep renewing them.
As for shows like Sense8 and Anne With An E, they’re not “flop” per se. These series have managed to garner a decent viewership. However, it wasn’t enough for the platform to renew them when they didn’t get as many returns. The endless number of tweets that complain about Netflix continuously producing additional seasons of generic reality television series but canceling even critically acclaimed ones might bring to light the underrated shows and talk about how fans would love seeing more of them. But, in the end, Netflix is a commercial platform that solely functions based on numbers.
While this logic certainly makes sense, Netflix cancels its shows more frequently than any other platform. The reason, according to CinemaBlend, for this is that the platform differs from the traditional TV model. While most other production houses commission creators to make a single episode of a show and then steer accordingly, Netflix commissions creators to make an entire season. While this gives the people making the show creative freedom, the platform doesn’t involve itself deeply in the creation process, which means that less time and effort has gone into the process from the production as compared to others.
So, this pattern of Netflix and why it cancels shows may yet continue for a long time before we can witness any changes.