For a few years, streaming platform Netflix has been the most cited example of a streamer canceling a series after a short season. But, in recent months, competitors like Disney, HBO, and Apple have proven just as capable of mass canceling and pulling down of their original series. Typical reasons are complicated tax refunds and the general, but unspecified feeling that a new comedy or drama is not living up to expectations.
The Good Place creator Mike Schur has offered a candid assessment of why many streaming shows can get canceled quickly
If a television series was a success in the old way of doing business, before streaming, the creator made money from advertising, broadcasting and selling rights internationally. With the introduction of streaming ad tiers, showrunners were offered a system of awarding bonuses for each subsequent season. These bonuses aren’t always paid out because most shows only last one or two seasons. Here are the words of the creator of The Good Place:
“Under the old TV model, if a show was a hit, its creator got rich off the bottom line. With all linear television revenue streams combined (commercials plus syndication plus overseas rights), a studio could make $3 for every $1 it costs for a hit. The problem for the writers was that most shows failed, so there was no payback to profit from. Streams offer something different. Their model, called the “cost plus,” could pay $1.30 to $1.50 up front, making each show a winner, but not a very big one. To compensate for the loss of the backend, streamers have offered performance-based incentives.
Schur described a scenario where a platform could promise a showrunner a bonus of $100,000 for the first season, $250,000 for the second, $500,000 for the third and $1.7 million for the fourth. “And then you feel like saying: “Holy shit! Is fantastic!”.
There was a catch. Many seemingly successful series began to disappear after just a couple of seasons:
“What nobody expected was that they would kill the series before having to pay that money. They fooled everyone. Now, if you get to 20 episodes, it’s a miracle.”
A recurring theme is that there are too many series streaming, more than a consumer can follow, and that there is little incentive for success. The Night Agent is one example, lauded for its record-breaking reign on the Netflix charts. Considering that the streaming platform has used subscriber growth as its primary metric, a big hit is usually good, but the overall goal remains subscriber growth. What matters is producing new original content, regardless of quality, to retain users, rather than celebrating and rewarding creators of established successes.
Even worse, it means that shows that don’t immediately grab attention are cancelled. However, there are some positive signs of change.
Netflix has introduced an advertising tier, while Prime Video is planning to add the option. This should bring more attention to the shows people actually watch. More importantly, the Writers Guild of America has currently been on strike for several weeks. One of their requests is greater transparency on how shows are performing in terms of viewership and how to translate this data into a fair residual salary that supports a salary.
There also seems to be an understanding of the need to abandon quantity in favor of quality. With 599 scripted shows due out in 2022, up from 210 in 2009, hopefully there’s still room for genre-specific shows that are also inclusive, like Warrior Nun. But even these streaming shows should be promoted well and highlighted, instead of being just one example among dozens and dozens.