What Does It Take To Get A Netflix Original Series Cancelled?
When Netflix announced the cancellation of award-winning drama series Bloodline, it seemed as though the platform’s era of infallibility had finally come to an end. Sure, they’d made cancellations before – Marco Polo and Hemlock Grove had seen the axe (Marco Polo apparently resulted in a $200 million loss for the platform) – but Bloodline felt like a turning point. The Florida Keys-set drama starring Kyle Chandler, Sissy Spacek, and Ben Mendelsohn along with a wildly talented cast was largely a critical darling and had also earned Mendelsohn an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor, beating out monstrous series like Game of Thrones and House of Cards. The creators had previously discussed having a five- or six-season plan for Bloodline – so why was Netflix bidding this slow-burn drama farewell? It certainly outranked the previously cancelled series in profile and prestige, so other than its critically-middling second season, putting the show on the chopping block felt strange. The elimination of Florida’s entertainment tax incentives program inevitably made the series more costly to produce, but the platform had never shied away from spending before (and probably won’t for a long, long time). The cancellation of Bloodline began a new phase for Netflix, one that saw the platform become more discerning with its choice in content and perhaps more numbers- and accolades driven. The past few weeks have seen the interwebs in an uproar over the axing of two more original series – The Get Down and Sense8. The latter spawned petitions from upset fans in an effort to bring the show back, and Netflix eventually addressed Sense8‘s cancellation online, but still did not reveal any hard facts regarding the reasons behind the decision.
So what really goes into cancelling a Netflix Original Series? Since the platform notoriously refuses to release hard viewership numbers – according to Sarandos, they want to avoid comparing series to one another with numbers and categorizing them based on ratings rather than content quality, and they don’t want to put “creative pressure on the talent” – it’s difficult to know exactly what combination of factors combine to create the perfect storm for a show’s elimination. As Netflix leaves behind its age of untouchable content, we’ve come up with a few theories regarding just what goes into deciding what stays and what goes. As platform bigwigs have discussed in multiple media appearances this year, they’ve decided it’s time for them to ramp up their cancellations and start directing more resources towards projects that will pay for themselves. While Netflix may have dove headfirst into producing originals to further expand their catalog and earn its place in the “Golden Age of Television”, they’ve firmly established their place in the landscape and no longer need filler content to scale up. The once safe haven for streaming series of all kinds has now become an arena just as ruthless as any other network or platform – it’s not about ramping things up anymore. It’s about sustainability and smart business and branding decisions. In this new age of Netflix, if a show isn’t making the cut in whatever department is deemed most important, it’s totally possible that they’ll be next on the chopping block.
Small Audience/Big Cost
This is the most obvious (and largely only discussed by Netflix personnel) component of the cancellation of the platform’s original series. Most have been pretty clear – Hemlock Grove received terrible reviews and cost about $40 million a season, Marco Polo is rumored to have cost over $200 million for Netflix and lackluster reviews, in addition to a small audience, The Get Down‘s costs apparently ballooned up to $16 million per episode
($120 million a season!), and Sense8‘s estimated cost of $108 million for one season cemented it just behind The Get Down as one of Netflix’s most expensive endeavors yet. Bloodline was apparently costing about $8 million an episode, and that was with the entertainment tax incentives. Regardless of whether or not they’ve released viewership statistics, you can’t blame Netflix for pulling the plug on series when they are costing hundreds of millions of dollars. We don’t need ratings to know that The Get Down‘s audience wasn’t justifying its cost.
Critical Mediocrity/Lack of Awards Love
The Money Keeps Coming Anyway
The unique thing about Netflix and other streaming platforms is that their original series continue to be lucrative for them long after they stop producing new episodes. Bloodline is the perfect example; after the series lost their tax incentive in Florida, the massive cost for future seasons likely outweighed the future revenue from such a financial endeavor. With a bingeable three seasons now available to stream on the platform forever, the place the investment stopped makes total sense. Because the series’ cancellation was decided before the third season went into production, creators were able to wrap things up without leaving viewers hanging, and Bloodline will remain an asset to Netflix – one that they don’t have to spend any more money on – for as long as the platform continues to exist. It’s a brilliant strategy, one that applies to all of their original content because of the structure of streaming as a whole. Why continue spending money producing new content for a waning audience when you can stop and potentially hook in new viewers with what you already have?
No matter how you feel about the recent onslaught of cancellations, one thing’s for sure – no show is safe anymore. Who knows? We might be saying farewell to platform tentpoles like Stranger Things, House of Cards, or Orange Is the New Black in the near future. Netflix’s survival of the binge-iest is sure to provide think pieces and angry petitions for years to come.