When Netflix cancelled Chambers earlier this month, was your first reaction, “Already?” Or, “What is Chambers?” And when it was announced that Santa Clarita Diet‘s latest season would be its last, was your initial response, “Wait, Season 3 came out?!”
In other words: Is Netflix giving its audience enough time to A) become aware of, B) find, and then C) binge-watch its original fare — and in expedient enough a manner to be counted by the streaming giant’s renew/cancel metrics?
As told to Vulture about a year ago, Netflix renew/cancel decisions are largely based on the amount of people who complete a season within four weeks of its release. And the numbers appear to bear that out. Looking at seven of its most recent cancellations, the bad news came anywhere from within four weeks of premiere (in the case of Santa Clarita Diet’s abrupt axing after three seasons) to seven (as with one-and-doners Chambers, The Good Cop and Everything Sucks!). Similarly but on the happier side, Lucifer was renewed for its second Netflix season less than four weeks after its debut on the service.
But ask yourself, based on your own TV consumption habits: Is four weeks a reasonable enough span of time to find and binge something in full?
Let’s first talk about AWARENESSS. Like any outlet (be it broadcast, cable or streaming), Netflix will announce a series order… trickle out casting news… eventually release teasers, trailers, key art/posters and first photos… and then announce a premiere date — each step of which typically spawn news stories that let you know, “Something is coming.” Reviews embargoed for release ahead of the premiere might also remind you of an imminent release.
But whereas a broadcast or cable series that releases episodes on a weekly basis will also generate preview pieces, sneak peek releases and post mortems all season long, all serving as reminders that such-and-such show is now airing, a “binge” release doesn’t enjoy commensurate coverage. That’s because it’s tricky to highlight/preview any episode beyond the premiere, since you can’t know where any given reader is at with their binge. Recaps and post mortems are a bit easier, as TVLine for example has demonstrated with Fuller House, The Haunting of Hill House, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Lucifer, to name a few, because you can warn readers to “steer clear!” unless they have reached that episode.
Now, let’s say you have become aware of a new series/season. That’s great! But unless you sign onto Netflix with the specific mission to hunt it down, do you trust that you will be able to easily FIND IT? Personally speaking, I have oftentimes scratched my head that a brand-new release is not on my home screen, and sometimes is even buried deeeeep in the New Releases scroll. (Ask me about the time I went to watch Maniac and COULD. NOT. FIND IT.) Fact is, Netflix doesn’t want you to quickly find what you came for, binge it and then move along. Like the grocer who positions the milk in the back of the store, they want you to get meander and be exposed to other things. They want that person who logged on specifically to watch Luke Cage Season 2 to instead get distracted by a 32nd viewing of the Lost pilot. (Guilty as charged.)
I need not remind you, Netflix has a “mind-boggling amount of programming” (as chief content officer Ted Sarandos himself put it for Vulture). Per one report, we’re talking 700 original shows worldwide, plus 80 original films. As Sarandos summed up his strategy there: “More shows, more watching. More watching, more sub[scriber]s. More subs, more revenue. More revenue, more content.”
So, you heard about a show and you’ve sought it out or stumbled upon it on Netflix. Now be honest: More often than not, will you have the TIME to watch all of the episodes within that most important first month? Sure, we all have our occasional, purposeful “binges” — see: Stranger Things Season 3, coming July 4! — but in the name of giving Netflix the data they need to “vote” for renewal, is that something you can reliably pull off on the regular? Knowing just how much other stuff you are going to watch in total?
Or, said differently: Should you have to binge an entire season in so fixed a time frame, as if it is some sort of cockamamie race?
If streaming is famously about “watching what you want, when you want,” we shouldn’t feel so pressured to plow through a season within a month. Netflix factoring in six (if not eight) weeks would set a far more realistic goal, recognizing that any given person is not only about any “one” show. Them old-timey broadcast-TV shows typically get at least 13 weeks to state their case, to open well and hold onto enough of that audience that they hopefully see another season, all while benefiting from regular reminders in the form of previews, interviews and TVLine’s world-famous What to Watch alerts.
“Binge” shows, though, only get that one big promotional push (if they’re lucky) at launch, and then… well, it’s in the TV gods’ hands.
Out of 31 Netflix renew/cancel decisions reported on by TVLine in the past 12 months, 74 percent were a thumbs-up (if we generously count all five powered-down Marvel shows as a package of “one”); Sarandos meanwhile has said he aims for an 80 percent renewal rate.
Maybe allowing audiences a better chance to build would help close that gap?