How does Netflix decide whether to renew or cancel a show?
James R | On 17, Mar 2019
In an on-demand age where content is booming, there’s never been more stuff to watch, with tons of TV series competing for viewers’ attention. While audiences are spoilt for choice, though, streaming services and broadcasters are facing equally tough decisions, as they both look to expand their library and bring in eyeballs but can’t spend money on everything. That’s become increasingly apparent in recent years, as Netflix has started to cancel a growing number of projects.
The latest to get the chop was One Day at a Time, its sitcom reboot that recently debuted its third season. The news this week that it would not be renewed was met with an outpouring of sadness and love from its ardent fanbase, as the show’s progressive, diverse and positive philosophy has marked it out as an important series in the TV landscape. The cancellation arrives as Netflix increasingly looks to prioritise its own, in-house production, as opposed to content produced by third parties that come with additional licensing costs (One Day at a Time is produced by Sony Pictures Television). Netflix also implied, though, that the show’s ratings weren’t big enough.
Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer, Netflix, said in a statement: “This was a very difficult decision and we’re thankful to all the fans who’ve supported the series, our partners at Sony, and all the critics who embraced it. While it’s disappointing that more viewers didn’t discover One Day at a Time, I believe the series will stand the test of time.”
How, then, does Netflix decide whether to renew or cancel a project? While Netflix is typically very guarded about its viewing statistics, VP of Original Content Cindy Holland gave us insight into the streaming giant’s process this week. Speaking at the INTV conference in Jerusalem with Keshet Media Group CEO Avi Nir, she said that Netflix normally has a good idea within a month of a programme’s release whether it is worth renewing. That doesn’t rely on pure size alone, but a projected size based on the kind of audience anticipated to watch it and other internal metrics of tastes and engagement, as Netflix’s algorithm theoretically places each title in front of the users most likely to watch it.
“We’re sizing up the audience and how much to invest. If that audience doesn’t show up to that level, what is the reason to continue to invest as we hoped?” Holland explained. “If there’s critical acclaim, that’s important to us, we’re about stretching investment dollars as far as we can; making good investments of our members’ money.”
“By the first 28 days,” she elaborated, is when they have a good idea of whether they have reached their viewership objectives.
But that doesn’t mean that there might be other insights from the data, including unseen opportunities for continuing the project or commissioning new content. While Netflix “didn’t have an original content strategy” when it launched House of Cards, its first original show, it intended the show to “define” what Netflix could be, i.e. a home to prestige, premium shows as good as pay-TV providers. Orange Is the New Black, on the other hand, followed and became a surprise flagship title.
“Nobody saw it coming,” added Holland. “It was a real gamble for us and it made so many careers for people. Uzo [Aduba] was going to quit trying to be a working actor. Her journey was only suppose to be a three episode-arc, the writers saw that, and said we had to keep writing.”
“That show wasn’t suppose to work around the world, and then it did, and it was a real moment of pride for us,” she added.
One Day at a Time Exec producers Royce and Calderon Kellett, meanwhile, have thanked fans for the #SaveODAAT campaign that took off on social media this week, and said that along with Sony, they are “exploring other places” where the show might be picked up.