Are Cancelled Series’ a Symptom of Deeper Issues in Hollywood?

The American Streamers Lined Up as Bowling Pins

As broadcast television suffers from cord-cutting and global streamers struggle to combat subscriber attrition, executives are cancelling television Series in what may be a monumental case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.

In a recent analysis of Series’ cancellations by TheWrap, journalist Andi Ortiz lays out the statistics behind the riskiest networks and streamers for new Series and their fans.

This analysis supports a compelling argument that “peak TV” has created a culture of corporate confusion, departmental isolation and lack of leadership within most of the streaming and broadcast majors.  While acquisition and commissioning executives return from the most recent film festival with new content in tow, programming and content executives in another department are pre-emptively cutting costs by cancelling the next “Season” as celebrity CEO’s vainly attempt to portray leadership on increasingly convoluted earning calls for Wall Street investors. 

Rarely, it seems, does the interest of the audience enter the discussion. Many investors may be wondering why. 

Netflix Original Series, Warrior Nun Poster.
Warrior Nun, a Top 10 Netflix Original Series, “ghost cancelled” after Season Two. Courtesy: Netflix. See the Time Magazine article on the Fan Protests of Warrior Nun’s Cancellation.

The apparent disregard for consumer audiences, and a lack of clarity for content producers, may offer a glimpse into the disruptive opportunities that now exist within the globally evolving arena of content delivery. While the largest American streamers and TV giants continue to look inward, a growing number of smaller competitors with new business models around the world are seeking market share, much as Netflix once did to Hollywood’s Major Studios.

According to Ortiz, “It’s impossible not to notice the sudden rush of shows getting axed after their first or second seasons.”

The cancellation of a new Series may be symptomatic of simple lack of awareness by isolated media executives under pressure from above.  However, when content with growing audiences goes on “hiatus” for six months, is quietly shelved mid-season or is outright cancelled after demonstrated success or public promotions promising a next Season, investors are likely to take notice. 

“That happened at least five times across the last two years, giving show creators and fans alike jitters.”  Says Ortiz. 

The data compiled by TheWrap provides some insight into the effects of the “Streaming Wars” as US based streamers and broadcasters emerge from a period of captive audiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Analysis indicates which of the mainstream US platforms are most dangerous for emerging scripted Series.  There is no analysis of data from other markets.

For competitors seeking to gain market share, that being the number of subscribers or viewers committing to watch content, the opportunity may be to offer creatives more room to grow the trust and loyalty of audiences.  But the coordination of any content delivery platform across content acquisition and content management must be in sync. 

According to analysis by TheWrap, the most dangerous places for Series in their first season, and for their audience, were Hulu and Showtime.  HBOMax provided the best chance for a new Series to make it to Season two, but not Season three.

Generally, the stability, and security, of Series’ on each platform is a reasonable indication of content acquisition strategy, cost management and leadership in the increasingly important ability to know and understand the customer (whether that be the consuming audience or the advertisers wanting access to them).  Traditionally, the rationale for cancelling a Series is the nexus between the size of the audience and cost of production.  But investment into a Series requires patience. 

Most Series intended for multiple Seasons often take a while to gain audience momentum, but can go on to be both highly lucrative and increasingly costly.  At some point, any expensive Series that generates insufficient audience interest can be financially ruinous.  So the decision to cancel can be overtly and objectively rational. But when audiences are interested, cancellations may indicate other problems. 



Added to traditional broadcast and cable television content management strategy are the more opaque metrics generated in concert with recommendation algorithms deployed by nearly all Streaming platforms.  In addition, there are corporate strategy shifts and mergers, which are taking place today at all of the Media Majors.  The resulting changes in management can bring disfavour on the previous regime’s projects and a lack of clarity on everything else. That can cost money already spent or committed to and result in accountants, lawyers and public-relations professionals scrambling for rationale.

These are all foreseeable risks.  What has not been foreseeable to investors or audiences, is the lack of commitment to any Series after so much money is spent producing it. 

“But the bottom line is that it’s hard to fall in love with a new TV show anymore.”  Writes Ortiz.  “And that’s not because there aren’t good stories being put out.  There are plenty.  Obviously, that doesn’t mean they’re all A+ stories, but at the very least, viewers had plenty to choose from.  No, the struggle today isn’t finding something to love, but rather, letting yourself get too attached to what you do find.”

Crunching the Cancellations

During 2021 and 2022 (at the height and end of the Pandemic constraints in the US), some 662 new scripted Series premiered across twenty-four networks and streamers, according to analysis of TheWrap’s data.  Of those 662, approximately 59% were cancelled during their first Season.

Many Series were “ghost-cancelled”, in which the next Season was simply never announced, leaving audiences wondering what happened to the investment of their leisure time, with 270 freshman Series that did get renewed for a second Season.

TheWrap’s analysis found that Netflix was in the middle of the pack, percentage-wise, formally cancelling only 11% of its Series in their first Season.  However, Netflix is one of the most prolific with the “ghost cancelling” practice.  Counting shows left in streaming limbo, Netflix’s cancellation rate would be considerably higher.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg’s Screentime newsletter, newly installed co-CEOs Ted Sarandos and Greg Peters argued that the company has “never cancelled a successful show.”  Which paints a different picture than the facts.  Of 302 new Netflix titles counted across 2021 and 2022, only 32 were publicly cancelled according to TheWrap.

Of the shows that did get a second season on Netflix in 2021, only 27% were officially renewed for a Season three.

The riskiest of the streaming platforms for any new Series was Hulu.  Within the cable and broadcast networks, Showtime cancelled 55.5% of its new shows in 2021 and 2022.  The network had, by TheWrap’s count, nine new shows in total, which put it on par with Fox, ABC and the CW.  Showtime is now effectively being folded into Paramount+’s premium tier, and Paramount plans to take a big write-down this year related to discontinued content, layoffs and other cost “savings”.

3 Comments

  1. Its like the traditional studios and streamers have forgotten who their customers are. As soon as they go public, the very large investors are the only opinions they care about. It will take disruption to return power to the audience. Advertisers used to rule; and they cared about a show running as long as the audience wanted it. I am reading more about FAST channels and how they are the tv broadcasters of tomorrow. Perhaps they will take their viewers more seriously (until they go public too).

Leave a Reply

Previous Story

Digital Pre-Vis: Ask Damocles

Next Story

Do We Really Want a Social Media Platform Owning the Courthouses in a World of Virtual Justice?