With their decision to cancel the sci-fi series Sense8 less than a month after season 2 premiered, and after a lackluster response to fans, the parallels between Sense8’s BPO and Netflix’s current business strategies are uncanny.
Netflix’s humble beginnings as a DVD rental mail service was revolutionary. No longer did you have to go to a video rental store, hope they still had a movie you wanted to see, and wait in line. With Netflix, you could get your favorite movies in your mailbox, watch at your leisure, and not worry about the late fees.
That’s right kids. Back in the day if you kept a movie you’d rented after 3 or 5 days, you’d be hit with late fees. I’m not even going to talk about the crap you got if you didn’t rewind a VHS tape.
This business model eventually brought Netflix competitors, Blockbuster and Hollywood Video to its knees. It was so popular that Netflix used to discourage what it’s known for: binge watching. There were long queues, wait lists, etc., because they couldn’t meet the demand. Later this very popularity prompted Netflix to develop it’s other revolutionary thing: streaming, and later high-quality original content.
Through popularity and savvy business decisions, Netflix has grown into a multi-billion dollar powerhouse, a king of content, all grown from a DVD service provider that could barely meet demand.
But Netflix hasn’t always made great business decisions. In 2011, after announcing that they would increase prices by almost 60%, subscribers quit at such a rapid rate that Reed Hastings himself had to issue an apology. During the same year, Netflix made, and quickly scrapped, plans to split into two companies, all due to subscriber outrage. It seemed that if there was enough feedback, Netflix usually made the best decisions on behalf of their paying customers. Until now.
The Cancellation of Sense8
There is no doubt that a large chunk of Netflix’s original content is often a high-quality version of what it represents. Meaning that while House of Cards, Orange is the new Black, Stranger Things, Black Mirror, and The Crown all make for great television, they are all versions of something that already exists. See: Scandal, The West Wing, The Twilight Zone, E.T., The Goonies, Oz, Downtown Abbey, The Tudors, etc. Each one of these shows has something that is like it and can be used to describe it. Not so with Sense8.
Sense8 is it’s own thing, and that’s why it matters. I have made no secret of my love of this show. It’s original, breathtaking, and while hard to describe, it’s hardly impossible.
While fans have frequently complained that Sense8 was not nearly as promoted as its sister shows, often editing better promos than Netflix itself, Sense8 is not for everyone, and not everyone will understand it. And that seems to be the crux of the problem. Netflix owns a show that it does not understand and is unwilling to, in part because Sense8 does not cater to a general audience, and it takes effort to understand.
It seems that with these decisions- canceling original content, leaning more heavily on reality TV and stand-up specials- Netflix is finally resting on it’s laurels, just like cable television not long ago. It’s the first domino that will knock all the others down. A visual:
Why It Matters
In the past, it seemed that with enough feedback, Netflix would at least reconsider their decisions. Not so with Sense8. After days of petitioning, social media outcry and telephone feedback, Netflix posted the following response on all of their Sense8 social media platforms.
The timing-the night before the season 5 premiere of Orange is the new Black- and the platform usage- the Sense8 media platforms and not Netflix- did not go unnoticed by fans. Netflix, “thought long and hard,” but did not reach out to producers or negotiate an an ending to a show that, ***SPOILERS AHEAD*** ends on a cliffhanger with all of it’s characters in the same location.
A visual representation of Netflix’s response to Sense8 fans.
To say that this is a cost issue is bull. To say that they can’t is a joke, because no one owns Netflix other than Netflix. And to say that there are no alternatives is simply tone deaf, and fans themselves have posted several alternatives to continue the story, including:
- Paying a premium price to have access to shows like Sense8
- Raising money
- Creating an animated show to continue the story
- Creating a graphic novel to continue the story
- Releasing a final movie to close the story
- Providing more advertising on social media
- Releasing Sense8 rights back to creators
- Allowing other platforms like Hulu or HBO to continue the show
Unlike cable television or even YouTube or Hulu, Netflix is not beholden to their advertisers. It is those very monthly fees that we pay every month that allows Netflix to create, produce and own it’s very content. It seems that the answer is to take that money away.
To Sense8 Fans
I know you are tired. We all are. If you are looking for a reason to no longer fight, then stop fighting. But do not stop fighting because you think this is a hopeless fight. It is not. The fact that Netflix released a statement the day before the premiere of one of their shows proves that they want us to shut up. Don’t. Do not go gentle into that good night.
And if you can, share your stories about what Sense8 means to you. I know some of you can’t, but if you can safely share your stories, then you should write.