On Thursday, Netflix cancelled One Day at a Time, its delightful revival of Normal Lear’s 1970s family sitcom of the same name. In an apologetic Twitter statement, the streaming service stated that, despite their love for the show, “simply not enough people watched to justify another season.”
Netflix, as many are aware, does not release viewership figures, and they did not disclose how many people had watched One Day at a Time, nor did they specify a viewership threshold that would have allowed for a fourth season. (Even the show’s producers seemed to be in the dark about the service’s algorithm; showrunner Gloria Calderon Kellett had previously referred to their viewership metric system as “all very mysterious.”) Which is why the show’s cancellation came as something of a surprise – based on the critical acclaim and social media buzz (#SaveODAAT quickly shot to the top of Thursday’s Twitter trends), One Day at a Time seemed safe from cancellation, particularly on a site as generous with its renewals as Netflix.
But as the streaming world continues to splinter and fragment, and as Netflix slowly but surely loses its monopolistic grip on the online subscriber base, it becomes clear that few shows this side of Stranger Things are truly “safe from cancellation.”
One Day made its debut in January 2017. That’s just over two years in our world, but a lifetime on the Internet, where the streaming TV business keeps warping and shifting to adapt to new changes and challenges. As of March 2017, Netflix (which had by that point been producing original content for four years) had cancelled only one series: Hemlock Grove, which ran for three seasons (2013-15). Two years later? Netflix has axed Sense8, Bloodline, Marco Polo, The Get Down, Gypsy, Seven Seconds, The Good Cop, Girlboss, Lady Dynamite, Everything Sucks, American Vandal, and all five Marvel shows. (That’s only a partial list; it grows even longer if I include kids’ series or long-running shows that reach intended conclusions.) What happened?
As I wrote about a few months ago, the streaming field has widened considerably in the last few years, as multiple niche genres have been blessed with their own online TV/film services. Netflix was once the undisputed king of the field, but many of the companies which helped it gain its footing – notably Disney and WarnerMedia – are branching off into streaming outlets of their own. Three years ago, Reed Hastings and his team seemed unstoppable; now, they’ve given rise to their own competition.
So Netflix will continue curbing its output, trimming its content even as it raises subscription prices. Acquired properties will grow sparser, as Disney and Warner Bros. will let their shows and films migrate to their own platforms. (To underscore how much Netflix is trying to retain some of its WB properties, note that they spent $100 million to keep Friends streaming for one more year.) And these new platforms, though ostensibly more niche and demographically focused, will still offer an embarrassment of riches – Disney has indicated that their “Disney Plus” service will apparently include their entire animated backlog. (Does that include Song of the South? Probably not, but I had to ask.)
Even among the Big Three streaming platforms, Netflix is losing ground. Hulu, which recently cut its subscription prices, will gain a bump once the Disney/Fox acquisition goes through, as it will now be majority-controlled by the Mouse. Obviously, Disney won’t let its newfound leverage over Hulu go to waste, and you can expect to see a lot of its content end up there as well. (My guess – based on the fact that Disney wants to keep their “Plus” service family-friendly, the R-rated properties they’ve acquired will probably migrate to Hulu. That also means that adult-level MCU shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones are more likely to end up on Hulu than anywhere else – though for a variety of reasons, don’t get your hopes too high about their revival.)
None of this is to say that Disney Plus will become the new Netflix – the latter is still extraordinarily popular and boosted by brand loyalty, and both services still have to deal with the power of Amazon Prime. And given the rate that new streaming services keep popping up – and the amount of A-list talent some of them are attracting – a major new rival could potentially rise in the next few years. It’s impossible to say how the playing field will look by 2025.
One thing, however, is certain – Netflix is not the unstoppable force it was once predicted to be. It is a business, capable of just as many peaks and valleys as any other. More importantly, while streaming TV as a market has plenty of influence on the culture, the amount of internal rivalries – and the fact that these continually fracturing services will best be reflected in rising consumer prices – demonstrate that it will not be driving broadcast TV out of business anytime soon.
One Day at a Time was the first major casualty of the streaming wars. But trust me, folks – it won’t be the last.