Netflix has been receiving pushback for its creative decisions from all sides, and every success seems to be a new minefield for the once-powerful streaming service. With The Sandman, a new extremely popular comic book adaptation hanging in the balance, Netflix’s analytics have been called into question by fans and critics.
The Sandman was long considered unfilmable, but the recently released adaptation has been almost universally beloved by longtime fans and newcomers. Its first season received rave reviews and prompted immediate calls for more. Unfortunately, the source material’s writer Neil Gaiman has raised the possibility of the series ending after just one season.
Netflix’s analytics is a tricky game. They’re not always willing to talk numbers and the ones they put out tend to only tell part of the story. By the numbers that fans do have access to, The Sandman was watched for over 69 million hours in its first six days. The show doubled that impressive number and racked up 127 million hours of watch time in its first full week. It became the number one show on the service across English-speaking territories and remained in the top 10 for weeks. To an uninformed observer, this would sound like an outstanding success and would warrant the production of the second season. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple and the more complex elements of the streaming service’s analytic structure cast the series’ future in doubt.
To hear Neil Gaiman tell it, Netflix isn’t prepared to greenlight a second season for anything that doesn’t see unbelievable unobtainable success standards. These standards don’t just require tons of people to watch the show, it also measures when and how people watch. Netflix prioritizes binge-watching to an almost unfair degree. Long series and films watched in a single sitting will see the most positive recognition from the streaming service. Fans who watched one or two episodes of The Sandman per day and finished it over a week weren’t offering as much aid as those who binged it on the first night. Netflix demands overwhelming success immediately, the service won’t sit back and wait for a slow-burn series to become beloved. This myopic obsession with short-term success at the expense of any other metric results in the untimely death of tons of good shows, despite huge fanbases.
The Sandman is an expensive series. It’s a big comic book adaptation with huge sweeping visuals, plenty of VFX, and a massive ensemble cast. Netflix will take any excuse to can this show, and anything short of tremendous success will be considered a failure. Streaming services in the modern day live or die on their original programming. A strong library of classic movies and TV shows is important, but it’s not what gets most people to sign up. This makes every show for Netflix a gamble. They have to have great original content to draw in fans, but if that show doesn’t immediately compete with something like Stranger Things, the streamer will lose interest. Conversely, Netflix has started taking a ton of criticism for the shows it cancels. There’s no quicker way to lose fans than canceling someone’s favorite show. Netflix is in a rough place, and that doesn’t bode well for a show like The Sandman.
The Sandman became a hit almost immediately. It was hotly anticipated by fans and well-received upon its release. If Sandman had been released to theaters and enjoyed a similar reception, it would be regarded as a huge success. Unfortunately, the goal of a series on a streaming platform is radically different than it would be on the big screen. Netflix needs to drive subscriptions, and proudly laying claim to the adaptation of one of the most popular comics ever written will entice some fans. However, a second season is a much different beast. Netflix already has the title on its service, making more of it likely won’t drive a new flood of viewers to subscribe. Canceling the show might cause tons of fans to drop the service, but the streaming service has made it clear that that’s a risk they’re willing to take. With that in mind, fans will be left wondering whether they’ll get to see their favorite immortals play out the rest of their stories.
The Sandman has a pretty clear strategy moving forward. The first season adapted the first two arcs of the comic book series, following seasons would undoubtedly continue that trend. Fans were already wondering how they’d complete the beloved narrative within three seasons, but, if they only get one, they’ll be left wanting more. Netflix will be receiving continued demands from fans, not just about The Sandman, but about the countless other series it’s threatening with cancelation. The tools that Netflix uses to measure success have led to the death of a ton of great content and could spell the end of the service as a whole.