Arts, Column

Weynand: Netflix Has A Content Problem, And It’s One Of Its Own Doing

Dear Netflix,

My message is short and simple. Please stop canceling shows after one season. It’s creating a massive problem for your content and your viewers.

Time and time again, I find myself in a tough spot when deciding how to spend my free time as a college student. Between classes, clubs, intramurals, and a social life, the chances that I have to watch television are sparing. With the way Netflix carelessly massacres its television catalog, I can’t use my TV time the way I want to. I’m coerced to watch the popular offerings rather than the projects that actually peak my interest. 

Frankly, that’s not the way TV watching should be. 

What got me thinking about Netflix’s show renewal habits, was the recent cancellation of 1899 after only one season. 1899 seemingly did everything right, and the concept had me captivated. The show was a period piece that followed a boat full of immigrants traveling from the United Kingdom to the United States. It was billed as a suspenseful mystery series, and coming from the creators of Dark, 1899 had every reason to be among my favorite shows.

If only I had the chance to watch it. 

1899 lived a little over a month—it premiered on Nov. 17 and was axed on Jan. 2. In that short month(ish) period, I was grinding for finals, enjoying the holiday season, and catching up with my home friends when I went back home for Winter Break. I barely had a moment to myself, let alone time to watch TV. In the meantime, 1899 received solid reviews from critics and built up a passionate following on social media. Now that it’s been canceled, I struggle to find a reason to watch it. 

When I have such little time to watch TV, why should I waste that time growing attached to characters who won’t be returning for more stories? It doesn’t make sense for me to watch 1899 when the plot will remain unresolved and the character arcs will never be completed. Netflix is discouraging me from watching its own series, and it has me convinced.

This isn’t the first time Netflix has done this to me. I have similar grievances with the streaming platform when it comes to shows like Blockbuster and Resident Evil. Both are shows that fell off my radar once they were canceled after their first seasons.

I think Netflix expects me to watch the wildly popular and complex Stranger Things once every few years and be satisfied. On my Top Pick For You Page on Netflix, I find shows like The Crown or Cobra Kai. Netflix probably says to itself, “he’s got plenty of options with countless seasons to last him for months at a time.” I enjoy the prestige of The Crown, and Cobra Kai is a fun show to fall asleep to, but I’m trying to diversify the shows I watch. Sometimes I’m looking for hidden gems that don’t get the attention they deserve. The problem is that these hidden gems don’t really exist past a season or two. 

From Netflix’s point of view, I understand why it would think to cancel smaller shows that don’t initially attract a larger audience. At the end of the day, it’s a business, and so it makes sense to spend less money where there’s less of an audience. That being said, there are breaks in this airtight business model that Netflix has adopted. Netflix charges people based on a general subscription, rather than charging customers for each specific show they watch. It makes more sense to diversify Netflix’s catalog to satisfy more innovative content. What’s more, Netflix doesn’t account for shows increasing their creative potential—and as a result, viewership—throughout multiple seasons. 

A great example of a show growing its audience over time is HBO’s Game of Thrones (GoT). The first season’s budget was between $50 to 60 million, yet the series only garnered an average of 2.52 million viewers throughout its first season. Compare that with the first season of HBO’s The Sopranos, which garnered an average of 3.43 million viewers per episode on a budget of under $30 million. The viewership versus budget alone for the first season of GoT is discouraging at best, and by Netflix standards, it probably would’ve been canceled.

Everyone knows that the story doesn’t end there for GoT. By its final season, GoT averaged nearly 12 million viewers per episode, a feat rarely seen by a television series. Netflix isn’t network TV, so its viewership data is somewhat of a mystery, especially when it comes to shows that it cancels. Regardless of a show’s viewership, Netflix isn’t giving these canceled series a chance to become a future GoT, or in Netflix terms, the next Squid Game.

This show renewal habit discourages creativity in the entertainment industry. Not only are existing stories cut short by cancellations, but the shows that do survive offer unoriginal or recycled content. The new hits on Netflix tend to be shows like Wednesday, a spinoff of The Addams Family

Netflix is also known to swoop in and save canceled shows from other networks, like Lucifer, which originally premiered on FOX. These stories are often fun, but creative boundaries aren’t being pushed when the content already has a strong base in pop culture. 

In the new streaming world, I wonder if original content has a place in television anymore. Although it doesn’t realize it, Netflix is slowly changing the way TV operates for the worse. I’m still looking for my hidden gems—the shows that are innovative, unique, and worthwhile. In the meantime, I’ll guess Netflix expects me to anxiously wait another two years for Stranger Things season five. I can’t wait. 

February 5, 2023