Netflix and its two-season sweet spot

Muslim Taseer looks at the Netflix trend of cancelling shows halfway through its run

Muslim Taseer
6th November 2020
Credit: IMDb, Patrick Harbron/Netflix/Patrick Harbron/Netflix
Fans of David Fincher's masterful serial killer thriller Mindhunter are distraught to learn that it has all but officially been cancelled, and Season 3 is almost certainly not happening. The news doesn't exactly come as a surprise, the cast was released from their contracts in January, but that doesn't make it any less heartbreaking.

Mindhunter was probably the best show about serial killers out there. It masterfully blended reality with fiction to chill viewers and get them thinking about violent crime in a profound manner, going past the surface-level serial killer glorification that has sprung up recently. It was loved by critics and fans alike, and generated tons of buzz. Why then, was it cancelled?

The simple fact of the matter is that Netflix is a business, and cares chiefly about profits. As Fincher confirmed in an interview with Vulture, Mindhunter was 'too expensive'. Granted, he mentions how hard it was to work on, saying he felt like it 'absorbed everything in his life", but the fact remains that the main reason it was put on hold was Fincher knowing that 'dollars have to equal eyeballs', meaning that the show has to be watched enough to justify its budget.

Netflix were much more likely to cancel shows early, after the second or third seasons

Mindhunter is the latest show to be axed by Netflix.
Credit: IMDb, Patrick Harbron - © 2017

Mindhunter, however, is far from the only show cut down before it's time. It's a story as old as the industry, a very good show is made, it doesn't get watched enough, and it gets cancelled. Netflix, or any production company for that matter, doesn't care what people 'like' or 'want to see', the only metric that matters to them are views, and consequentially how much revenue it generates.

As it turns out, there's an examinable trend here. Last year, Ampere Analysis released a report that tracked show cancellation. What they found was that streaming services like Netflix were much more likely to cancel shows early, after the second or third seasons. This shorter format is apparently the most cash effective - three seasons seems to be about the point where new people stop getting into the shows Netflix produces. When these shows are not profitable enough, they are essentially dumped.

Fans of the Marvel Universe were devastated when it was all cancelled.
Credit: IMDb, Barry Wetcher - © 2014 Netflix

Multiple Netflix Originals have gone out like this, including Netflix's entire litany of additions to the Marvel Universe. Luke Cage, The Punisher, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, among others. These shows all had committed fan bases because they were good shows, but the moment they stopped providing viewership growth and stopped driving people towards getting Netflix, they were dropped. Netflix makes money from subscriptions, which is why the aim of their business model is to keep people subscribing to the service.

How many stories will be left untold, and how many fanbases will be disappointed?

It's undeniable how much Netflix has changed how we watch 'TV'. It only stands to reason that now, as Netflix ramps up production on it's originals, the industry is being shaped. This means that whatever Netflix believes will be most profitable will, over time, become the industry standard, or atleast influence it.

If Netflix deems that two seasons of 10 episodes each is the most cost-effective way to produce its shows, it will start doing that. This sets a dangerous precedent. How many stories will be left untold, and how many fanbases will be disappointed? These shows are more than just the money they generate for Netflix, they mean something to people. Creative effort was poured into them lovingly by the cast and crew, and they contributed to pop culture. That all matters for nothing when profits are the main goal, and is that really what art should be judged on?

Art shouldn't be made just because it's profitable, it is more than that. Can we trust a huge corporation to consider more than just profits? Probably not.

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