Netflix’s Problem With Wasted Potential

Frances Marsh | Comment Editor 

Streaming giant Netflix is notoriously secretive about pretty much everything. Whilst recently they have started to be a little more transparent about the viewing figures of their most popular shows, there are still many shows and movies on the service with no information available to the public about how well they’re really doing. This secrecy underpins many people’s frustration with the service, as it can seem like shows are cancelled with little explanation as to why.

Seemingly popular shows are frequently cancelled almost immediately, with barely enough time for them to succeed. Alternatively, viewers are faced with months of silence and then a quiet cancellation, in some cases with the cast having to take it upon themselves to break the news. Either way, it creates frustration amongst people paying for the service to watch their favourite series. This was the case with the Kenny Ortega hit ‘Julie and the Phantoms’, a show which despite huge fan support was left with no update for months. Whilst after the long period of no news the cancellation seemed inevitable, it still came as a shock for many fans. The show not only had the weight of the highly celebrated Kenny Ortega behind it, but its engagement online was also large and predominantly positive. Some have speculated on the data which drives Netflix’s cancellation decisions, suggesting that the viewership in the first few days of a show’s premiere is vital. This suggests that if a show is not an instant hit, even if it later takes off, it has little hope of renewal.

Amongst the shows cancelled, many are those praised for their high levels of minority representation and handling of hard-hitting topics. Whilst these might not be global hits like Bridgerton or Stranger Things, it can be argued that there’s a lot of value in the smaller, yet extremely passionate fanbases shows like these attract. Sense8 was a sci-fi drama from the directors of The Matrix, with a strong focus on the stories of queer characters and people of colour. The cancellation makes sense when seen as a financial decision, it reportedly cost the service $9 million an episode, but caused a huge outcry from fans. This campaign attracted so much attention that despite Netflix chief Reed Hastings claiming the show had no hope of a return, a finale episode was eventually released and dedicated to the fans. This is not an isolated occurrence, cancelled shows regularly become part of online campaigns that in many cases gain an unignorable amount of traction.

Viewers are also quick to point out the inequalities between shows which are renewed and those that aren’t. Teen love story ‘Heartstopper’, which features a queer love story between two young boys was a massive hit and was quickly renewed for two more seasons, yet ‘First Kill’ a story surrounding two lesbian characters was cancelled within two months of its premiere. Both shows amassed large viewing figures and made their way into the Netflix top 10, so why was only one of them renewed? Of course, it’s impossible to be certain, but it can be speculated that a wholesome gay male romance was more palatable to a wider heterosexual audience than ‘First Kill’s’ sexier approach and sapphic protagonists. This was particularly frustrating, as ‘First Kill’ was a unique series for the streaming service and certainly one that had the potential for a loyal fanbase had it been given the time to develop.

It would be impossible for Netflix to renew every series, however, they are quickly gaining a reputation for their exhaustive list of cancellations. This is not a good look for a service which relies on people becoming invested in their shows, after all, nobody wants to watch a series that was never completed, or start one that may never be continued. In a time when Netflix is facing a significant drop in subscribers, I would argue that continuing this approach is beginning to damage people’s perceptions of the service as a whole.

Image by Global Panorama via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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