I only intermittently checked in on Twitter during last week’s vacation, but one of the odder sights was the suggestion by Matt Wilstein of the Daily Beast that streaming powerhouse Netflix canceled the “comedy” show The Break with Michelle Wolf because of disagreement with her criticism of conservatives.
Wilstein wrote, “Wolf is an expert at outraging conservatives — perhaps something Netflix was less-than-thrilled about.”
Really? Does he really think that the company that signed a multi-year deal with the Obamas to produce new programming is going cancel a show because of conservative outrage?
Let’s just use Occam’s Razor here. Netflix is a business, and it wants to make money. Unlike most past television programmers who make money through advertising, they make almost all of their revenue through subscriptions. (They still make money on DVD rentals, too.) Unlike the old Nielsen television-rating system, Netflix knows exactly how many subscribers are watching which programs. The company rarely publicly discusses specific numbers of viewers, except when they’re really high — such as the 11 million subscribers who streamed the original Will Smith fantasy-cop drama Bright in its first few days of release.
Netflix may be willing to run a loss on certain shows if they feel there’s enough benefit in other areas — publicity, critical acclaim, awards, etcetera. Wolf’s show couldn’t have cost that much compared to other kinds of television programming; it didn’t have expensive special effects, a large cast, or elaborate sets.
Let us also assume that Netflix had to know that cancelling Wolf’s show would get them a certain amount of grief from the “woke comedy” advocates on social media.
And yet they canceled it anyway.
What does that tell us? It tells us that the audience for Wolf’s show had to be really, really small, even if it was vocal on social media. The audience had to be so small that it wasn’t worth keeping for the praise from lefty television writers, and so small that it was worth taking the flak for cancelling it. So small that even Netflix, with $290.1 million in net income in the first quarter of 2018, couldn’t justify the expense of continuing the show.
That’s a small audience.