MIPTV: Streamers Make More Shows But Cancel Sooner, Study Finds

David Lee/Netflix
'Friends From College'

A new report from Ampere Analysis shows services like Netflix and Amazon cancel series more quickly than traditional cable or broadcast channels, with sci-fi shows often the first to get the ax.

The rise in streaming video services has been a boon for production companies worldwide, as Netflix and company greenlight a massive number of new series. But for individual producers, the SVOD boom can be short-lived.

According to a new report by London-based research group Ampere Analysis, streaming companies are the quickest to cancel new fiction series, being far more ruthless than cable or broadcast networks.

The study, published Tuesday, found the average original SVOD series “struggles to make it beyond a second season.” Series on cable networks, in contrast, run for an average of four seasons before getting the ax, while scripted shows on free-to-air networks can expect to run an average of six-and-a-half seasons.

The study, which looked at shows renewed or canceled in the U.S. market between last September and March, found that 12 of the 13 series Netflix canceled in that period had run for three seasons or less. These included four Marvel series: The Punisher, Daredevil, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, as well as the original comedies All About the Washingtons, The Good Cop and Friends From College. Sci-fi has it hardest on Netflix, with more than half of the streamer's cancellations coming in that genre.

But even the most successful shows can expect a short shelf life on SVOD. When Netflix's Orange Is the New Black finishes its run with its seventh and final season this year, it will have become the longest-running series on a streaming service, as no other show has gotten that far.

Broadcast networks, in contrast, are far more loyal. Series such as The CW's Supernatural and the CBS procedural Criminal Minds recently wrapped after 15 seasons. Overall, broadcast networks accounted for just 22 percent of all shows cancelled in the period. NBC has proven particularly loyal, with both the longest-running series of all time in the daytime soap Days of Our Lives, currently at season 55, and the 21st season renewal for Law & Order: SVU, the longest-running primetime drama ever in the U.S.

“This is a cautionary sign for producers,” says Ampere Analysis' Fred Black, an author of the report. “It might be easier to get a commission from Netflix, but you are likely to be out in two to three seasons.”

Netflix contracts require producers to agree to a condition banning them from reviving original shows on another network or platform after the streamer has pulled the plug.

“[Netflix is] happy to pick up shows other channels have canceled, but they want that flow to be one way,” says Black. 

The Ampere report found SVOD services renewed 2.2 times more content than they cancelled — by far the lowest ratio of any commissioner group. But Netflix accounted for fully 62 percent of all renewed shows. Indicating that while the streaming giant is quick to cancel programs it doesn't want, it orders up a lot more to replace them.

Black says the data on renewals and cancellations points to a strategy at Netflix that favors novelty over fan loyalty. “They are building a library focusing on new titles, not on volume [of episodes],” he says.

So far, the approach has been successful, but Black warns of the potential of a backlash from fans angered over their favorite shows being cut: “If this leads to fans cancelling their subscriptions, we could see Netflix change their approach.”

Rapper Eminem was notoriously vocal about his displeasure with Netflix after it dropped The Punisher. "Dear @Netflix, regarding your cancellation of The Punisher, you are blowing it!!" he posted on Twitter after the streamer axed the comic book-based series.

Compared to short-lived drama, reality series have a much better shot at longevity. Fourteen of 15 new reality titles launched in the period studied were renewed for a second season and, in total, just three reality shows were cancelled. Unscripted content accounted for five of the nine shows renewed beyond a 16th season, including the game shows Wheel of Fortune (now in season 38) and Jeopardy (season 37).