How do streaming services decide which shows to renew or cancel?

July 19, 2022
Max Gruber 0
Streaming Service

Streaming services sometimes come up in people’s bad books for cancelling well-loved shows, causing an uproar among dedicated fans and leaving them asking “why does Netflix and other streaming services cancel good shows?” Well, that’s a good question. We’ll get into it.

So, why do streaming services decide to cancel beloved shows? And how many views does a show need to be renewed? There are a number of factors that have to be considered when making the decision on whether to renew or cancel a show. Read on to find out what these are.

Viewership

Usually, when a show is released on Netflix, Prime, and other streaming services, the viewership within the first month is very important, as well as whether the show is able to maintain its viewership throughout the season. If viewership is strong for the first few episodes, but declines towards the end of the season, streaming services may decide to scrap the show, as the buzz surrounding the show has ultimately ceased.

According to the site IGN, Cindy Holland (Netflix’s VP of original programming) gave the lowdown on what it takes for Netflix to scrap or re-ignite a show at the Television Critics Association summer 2018 press tour. “The biggest thing that we look at is, are we getting enough viewership to justify the cost of the series?”.

She also went on to say that viewer retention (how long the viewership and interaction with a series is maintained) is also influential:,”in the case of Everything Sucks, it had a passionate and good audience coming in, but what we were finding is that there were far fewer people than average who were completing the season. And so when we looked at what it would take, how many viewers we would need to be successful with a Season 2, we found that the audience size really just wasn’t there.”

Netflix also pays attention to how long that show stays in the Top 10 list. If it drops from its top spot pretty quickly, Netflix might decide that the viewership isn’t high enough to justify a season 2. If viewership reaches the multi-millions, a renewal is usually imminent. Shows like Bridgerton, which was revealed to have racked up a viewership of 82 million households during its first season, and Shadow and Bone, which was watched by 55 million households post-release, are examples of this. 

Fanbase

Every show needs a loyal fanbase to drive social attention to the show and request new seasons, which streaming services occasionally listen to. If a show has a lot of hype and sees itself become a trending hashtag on Twitter, renewal is highly likely, provided everything is okay behind the scenes. 

It helps (but isn’t absolutely necessary) if the show being released is adapted from a book series, which already has its own fanbase who are excited to see it turned into a series. With these pre-existing fans driving attention towards the show that is about to be released, new viewership and attention surrounding the show could increase and therefore raise the likelihood of a renewal.

If we look at Netflix specifically, shows like Shadow and Bone, The Witcher, Haunting of Hill House, The Queen’s Gambit and Bridgerton are among some of the book-to-screen series that found themselves in the top spot on Netflix for many weeks, catalysing a renewal pretty quickly after their release. The anomalies in this sense are shows like Stranger Things and Black Mirror, which are not derived from pre-existing book or comic series, but have a dedicated fanbase that has enabled them to be renewed for multiple seasons and maintain the hype surrounding them. 

What about shows produced by others? 

Streaming services can only cancel shows produced and released by themselves. For other shows that stream on different broadcasting platforms and channels, such as Freeform, CW and BBC, the likes of Netflix, Prime and Paramount+ have to obtain rights to them. This is usually a huge plus for the network, as it means it can afford to keep the series running with financial backing. 

In the case of certain shows that rely on streaming services to keep them running, such as Shadowhunters, once that deal expires or runs out, the channel loses its maintained cash flow. According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Constantin lost its output deal with Netflix, which helped to foot the bill for the pricey project. Without the streaming giant’s financial backing, Constantin sought a greater cash infusion from Freeform, which sources say was unable to afford to keep the series running.” 

As Shadowhunters had a lot going for it – as it was a book adaptation and had a loyal fanbase and reasonably strong viewership – it can make a lot of people solely blame Netflix for its cancellation, when really it was due to issues going on behind the scenes. What may seem like an unreasonable decision to you, may actually be justified at Netflix HQ. 

Can streaming services uncancel a show?

If funding falls through for the series and the broadcasting network it originates from is unable to maintain it on its own, it will most likely have to cancel, and the company has no control over that decision as it’s not produced by them. 

With shows that are Netflix Originals, for example, that were initially renewed but ultimately cancelled later on (like The Society), sometimes disruption can happen behind the scenes, like a pandemic, that results in production being unable to commence safely, resulting in cancellation. 

The bottom line

Chances are, it’s a lengthy and difficult decision to make by streaming services teams on whether to renew or cancel, and it’s definitely not a spontaneous decision. So next time a favourite show of yours gets cancelled, there are probably a whole plethora of reasons as to why. 

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