Understanding Cancellations on Netflix: Why We Lost “Everything Sucks!”

In a recent article by Vulture, they went “Inside the Binge Factory” to explain the magic of Netflix. In doing so, they helped us in understanding cancellations on Netflix as well as why they pick up who they do.

Netflix is Watching You

It’s no secret that Netflix keeps a close eye on it’s viewers. Without needing to rely on external sources like the Nielsens, Netflix is in a unique position where all of their content is measurable by themselves. They monitor the number of people who binge a whole season, how quickly viewers do it, and that is turned into data to understand what the viewers want. Netflix grabs their verticals and can target the niche as well as the broad spectrum.

This has led to some awkward moments, like when they called out the 53 individuals who watched A Christmas Prince every day, for 18 solid days…

It’s magnificent in it’s creep factor. This means Netflix knows I watched Sense8‘s finale twice, and I leave One Day at a Time on pretty much any time I’m feeling down and want some background love.

It’s Not Your Father’s Demographics

This seems to hold up when we consider how Netflix looks at their big data. A decade ago, VP Todd Yellin thought he needed personalized demos to know things like age and gender and money. That’s what the Nielsens use, after all, and when it was a DVD service, so did Netflix when it wanted to recommend DVDs. But in doing so, they determined that age and gender had far less to do with choices than a person’s viewing habits.

“Nowadays, in our modern world, hit play once and it tells us volumes more than knowing you’re a 31-year-old woman or a 72-year-old man or a 19-year-old guy,” Yellin says. Or, as Sarandos puts it, “It’s just as likely that a 75-year-old man in Denmark likes Riverdale as my teenage kids.”

How Netflix Swallowed the TV Industry (Vulture)

Instead of the traditional demographics by age and race and money, Netflix has what they call “taste clusters.” That is, they can make their programming decisions based on the massive gigs of viewing data and habits, not just the estimations network TV gets. And this means they know how many niche viewers they need to make a show renewable even if it’s only played to a small market, or to a specific nation.

No More Pilots

Unlike traditional pilot season, where a show will film one (or two) episodes and the network makes decisions based on that, Netflix goes for broke with ‘for season orders.’ By the way, if you ever wondered why a first-episode on network TV often feels ‘off’ it’s because of how pilots work. Months can pass between taping of episodes 1 and 2, but also episode 2 will include any network mandated changes.

You don’t see that in Netflix because they film it all and then drop it all on viewers at works. It’s a go-for-broke mode that generally works well for them. In addition, they don’t have to worry about time slots and low-quality fillers. In the days before DVRs, networks fought for supremacy and often didn’t put their behemoth shows opposite each other. But once we got the magical digital video recorders, we could have CSI and Grey’s Anatomy on at the same time, and neither show suffered because we watched both.

If It Fits, It Ships

All this leads us to the big question. How does Netflix decide what fits and what doesn’t? Why did we lose Everything Sucks! but keep 13 Reasons Why?

The answer? They don’t have a ‘theme’ or a brand. And this is weird if you’re used to traditional networks. ABC, NBC, CBS, and even Fox aim at a broad spectrum of users. Oh sure, Fox is conservative and risqué (strange bedfellows indeed), CBS and NBC are staid and old school, ABC is Disney Channel parents (with Freeform being their millennials). When you look at the cable networks, you see that HBO, Bravo, and AMC want critical adulation and the Emmy, which is why shows like Imposters don’t generally last long. A smaller audience is fine, as long as they get those sweet, sweet accolades. Even Starz falls into this with shows like Vida.

And Netflix just throws the rulebook out. They don’t have a theme or a style or a pattern. We might argue they want the acclaim, but then you have to remember they also have a bunch of really crappy series. No really, some of that stuff is what I’d call Sunday afternoon burn-off series (like Saved by the Bell) that you air when a baseball game is rained out.

But if they have no limits, how do we understand cancelations on Netflix?

Why Everything Sucks!

Okay, let’s get to the meat of this.

Cindy Holland, Netflix’s vice-president of original content, was asked why one was renewed and the other was canceled. Both are relatively inexpensive to make, both had lower-than-expected viewership. So why did we lose one?

According to Vulture, Sucks only costs $1.5 million per episode, and around $15 million for the season. That’s two-thirds of the cost of one episode of The Crown, just to put it in perspective. Even so, the show didn’t generate enough interest.

“It sucks that it didn’t have a broader audience,” Holland says, leaning into the pun. “We couldn’t get out of that core appeal.” But it wasn’t just that not enough people watched. Among those who did, “a smaller-than-average number were completing it,” Holland says.

How Netflix Swallowed the TV Industry (Vulture)

While overall viewership matters, Netflix weighs heavily how many people turn a show off midway through an episode or a season, and never return. Having a big audience with no one watching the whole show hurts it. In short, not enough people who started watching Everything Sucks finished it. And that sucks.

We Take It One Day at a Time

On the other hand, people did watch all of One Day at a Time, which contributed to it’s renewal. But even so, the data only gives them 70% of the decision. The other 30% is the gut, which is a big reason why we get more of the Alvarez family.

“It has a good audience,” Holland tells me. And yet, without getting specific, she seems to confirm a perception shared by the show’s production team and other TV-industry sources: Despite strong reviews, One Day has not become the breakout success Netflix had hoped. “We have been a little perplexed as to why its audience base hasn’t broadened beyond that core passionate fan base,” Holland says.

How Netflix Swallowed the TV Industry (Vulture)

A big factor too is that One Day at a Time crosses a lot of verticals. Latinx, family, LGBT, female, and it’s a different story than you’ll find anywhere. No, Netflix doesn’t crack open demographics like age or gender, but if you peek at social media and the other shows people watch, they can totally triangulate.

Back From The Dead

This carries us to things like Lucifer, which Netflix saved for a 10 episode 4th season, and Sense8 which got it’s wrap up movie.

Those are aberrations to many, appearing to be statistical outliers to the outside eye, but when you think back to the whole Netflix process, it starts to make sense. Both shows have an incredibly wide vertical. People from all different backgrounds like those shows, making it demographically diverse. They’re both also very vocal in the fandom region. It’s no surprise that Sense8 said their finale was “For the Fans” after all.

Netflix was able to determine the cost of those rescues — and don’t fool yourself, they were incredibly high — is worth it. Remember, Netflix has Lucifer on it’s system for re-airs, so it had a damn good idea how popular it was. As for Sense8, the fans had a big hand in that one.

When You Binge Doesn’t Matter

There’s some good news for late viewers. Netflix doesn’t mind when or how you watch the season. They care about if you watch, and finish, an episode, and if that carries you to the next one, even if that’s a week later. That said, they do consider the 28-day viewership. Essentially, they monitor how many people finish a show within a month of it’s release. They also like to know what shows new subscribers watch to understand what shows drive people to Netflix.

And how many people is that? Netflix won’t tell. Sure, they have over 125 million subscribers, but how many people is that? Maybe double. And with the international reach, there are shows that have been viewed by 50 million people.

That’s insane, but we won’t get the raw data on that, probably ever.

Unless of course you’re watching A Christmas Prince.

About Mika A. Epstein

Mika has been deep in fandom since she could say 'Trekkie.' With decades experience in running fansites, developing software, and organizing communities, she's taken on the challenge of delving into the recesses of television for queers long forgotten. Making this site with Tracy is nothing short of serendipity. Mika lives with her wife and their cats in Southern California. Of course she has a hybrid, but she'd rather ride her bicycle.
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