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This is the thing about Netflix that keeps frustrating so many people

Published Oct 20th, 2020 10:09PM EDT
Netflix cancellations
Image: Diyah Pera/NETFLIX

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  • Netflix cancellations have been mounting with increased frequency at the streamer, which reported its latest quarterly earnings result on Tuesday afternoon.
  • Netflix, among other things, reported a miss in global paid net subscriber additions, compared to what analysts were forecasting.
  • This comes at a time when Netflix is increasingly canceling popular shows, like the Hilary Swank-led Away, irrespective of how successful they seem to be on the platform.

When Netflix reported its third-quarter earnings Tuesday afternoon, analysts were disappointed to see misses in key areas, like earnings per share as well as global paid net subscriber additions falling short of estimates.

Netflix added 2.2 million net additional subscribers during the quarter, compared to the 3.57 million that analysts had hoped to see (and far short of the 6.8 million during the same period in 2019, which was, of course, the pre-COVID era). The streamer blamed this in part on a “pull-forward” of demand to earlier in the calendar, meaning the onset of the coronavirus pandemic likely accelerated Netflix subscriber growth that might otherwise have happened more gradually throughout the year. Not that the company is hurting on this front, by any means.

“In the first nine months of 2020,” the company’s newly published shareholder letter reads, “we added 28.1m paid memberships, which exceeds the 27.8m that we added for all of 2019.” Still, though, one thing neither the letter nor the company’s latest quarterly performance really address is a quiet, frustrating trend that might explain some of the noise in the subscriber numbers — it’s the increasing mercilessness with which Netflix cancellations are mounting, with word of the latest, ironically, happening mere hours before Netflix’s earnings presentation Tuesday.

Away, the Hilary Swank-led drama about an astronaut who “prepares to lead an international crew on the first mission to Mars,” has been canceled by the streamer, a little more than a month after its premiere. Making that cancellation all the more puzzling and frustrating for fans, who now won’t get to see what happened after the crew landed on Mars, is the fact that Away seemed to be something of a hit for Netflix — indeed, it spent several weeks on the Top 10 chart that Netflix itself prepares, ranking the hottest content on the platform, and which is viewable by anyone.

The cancellation ax seems to some fans and Netflix subscribers to be swinging harder and faster than ever at the streamer these days, and COVID-19 is at least partly to blame. On an episode of The Hollywood Reporter’s TV’s Top 5 podcast in recent days, Star Trek producer Alex Kurtzman disclosed a shocking number range: $300,000 to $500,000.

That’s how much he estimates that PPE alone has added to the cost of every single episode of the new Star Trek series.

Even without being an industry insider or well-versed in the business, it’s easy to see how the costs mount fast in the new COVID-19 era. Studio HVAC systems have to be improved to meet new standards. Actors’ salaries are up, partly because they’re committing to longer shoots, since shows take longer to film because you can’t have as many people grouped together on set. And on and on.

Accordingly, Netflix recently reversed course and un-renewed shows it had already green-lit for new seasons, like GLOW, The Society, and I Am Not Okay With This.

Personally, I don’t necessarily want to see things drift closer to the British model of TV, which entails longer episodes, but fewer of them in a season — and maybe only one or two seasons of a show, at most. There’s a rumor, though, that Netflix has been telling creators to plan for three seasons of their series, but to get as much as they possibly can into the first season, because — well, you never know.

In light of all this, some of us have shifted our viewing behavior to generally wait for a second-season renewal before trying out a new show. That’s a solution to the problem of trying something and feeling like it got yanked away from you too soon in the event it gets canceled, but it’s a pattern that may also serve to accelerate some of these trends even more.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.