Why Netflix Keeps Canceling So Many Shows

By Jessica Lerner 

Though companies such as HBO Max, AMC Networks and Starz have recently made headlines over removing content from their streaming services, Netflix is the platform now drawing the ire of fans over its recent programming decisions.

Uncoupled, 1899, Warrior Nun and The Midnight Club are just a few of the shows the streamer has axed over the past two months, joining an even longer list of canceled titles in the past year.

These cancellations have prompted outrage, leading dedicated fan bases to start online campaigns demanding Netflix reverse its decision or urging another streamer to rescue a series. Fans of Warrior Nun have taken to social media to do just that over the past month, even leading to the phrase “Netflix, correct your mistake” trending on Twitter on Tuesday.


So what is behind the streamer’s recent cancelation spree?

As of late, the streaming boom has fizzled out after years of strong growth as platforms in search of subscribers propelled the volume of new TV series to all-time highs. In response to underwhelming growth, streaming services are cutting costs and pulling back, something that has been compounded by the possibility of a recession.

To that point, Netflix had a difficult time in 2022.

Though the company added 7.66 million subscribers in the fourth quarter, it had a rocky start to the year, losing more than 1 million subs at the beginning of 2022.

Since the loss of subscribers, the company has laid off over 400 workers, announced plans to crack down on password sharing and created an ad-supported tier.

The company also plans to keep its investment in new film and television programs steady. In 2022 and 2021, Netflix spent $17 billion on programming, and it expects to spend at least that amount in 2023.

This translates into Netflix becoming more conscientious about which projects it spends money on.

“What we have to do is be better and better at getting more impact per billion dollar spent than anyone else,” said co-CEO Ted Sarandos during a prerecorded earnings report. “And that’s how we’re focusing on it… As we reaccelerate revenue, we’ll revisit that number, of course. But we’re a pretty disciplined bunch about that.”

Therefore, it makes sense that shows that underperform will get the axe.

“It’s not something that we take lightly,” Netflix’s head of U.S. and Canada scripted series Peter Friedlander told Variety of the streamer’s content decisions.

“It’s just a frustrating part of the job that’s been a part of our business forever, so this isn’t a new experience to have cancellations, and hopefully, we can continue to bring in shows that continue,” he added.

“We have never canceled a successful show,” Sarandos told Bloomberg in a recent interview. “A lot of these shows were well-intended but talk to a very small audience on a very big budget. The key to it is you have to be able to talk to a small audience on a small budget and a large audience at a large budget. If you do that well, you can do that forever.”

Various metrics go into the cancellation decisions besides financials.

From a data perspective, shows with a lower completion rate–the percentage of viewers who finish a show–have a harder time getting renewed, according to Forbes, which looked at third-party data on series completions. Many canceled series, including the recently killed First Kill, had a completion rate below 50%.

Additionally, Netflix’s Top 10 list is a metric for measuring a series’ success.

Despite its numerous cancellations, Netflix’s methodology seems to be working.

In 2022, Netflix had five of the Top 10 most-watched English-language TV seasons ever, led by Stranger Things 4 and Wednesday, both of which had more than one billion hours of viewing.

“This business is really completely about engagement, profit and revenue,” said new Netflix co-CEO Greg Peters in the company’s prerecorded fourth-quarter earnings call. “We’ve got to grow all of those things and all those things are tied to executing content. When the content’s working, the business is working. We grow engagement; we grow revenue; we grow profit.”