top of page

Which Streaming Service Cancels TV Series at the Highest Rate? This Study Sets the Record Straight

WBD's Max wielded the heaviest ax from 2020 to 2023 while Apple TV+ was most merciful

"Cowboy Bebop" courtesy of Netflix; "Batwoman" courtesy of CW; "Westworld" courtesy of HBO

The Streaming Era began with a promise of nurturing shows without fear of ratings pressure and quick cancellations. Of course, that was a lark. Soon enough, the streamers began slashing shows as quickly and brutally as any Nielsen-obsessed broadcaster, and they were all flooded with same complaint: “The streamers just cancel everything! Nothing gets more than a season anymore!”

How true is that really? After all, the streamers are looking for hit shows, just like traditional networks. If a show gets high viewership relative to the cost of producing it, it gets renewed. Otherwise, it is canceled. That is how it has worked since the days of black-and-white TV.

To get to the heart of the matter, Variety Intelligence Platform (VIP+) and Luminate collaborated on a data exploration to determine how often the leading U.S.-based streaming and linear programmers have canceled series TV series over the past three years. The new report, The Show Must Go Off,” is an exhaustive statistical analysis that aims to settle one of the most hotly contested debates in the TV industry.

The data covered all shows (scripted and unscripted) canceled between 2020 and Aug. 8, 2023. As seen in the chart below, the major streamers (Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Max, Apple TV+, Peacock, Paramount+) overall had a combined average cancellation rate of 12.2% —not much higher than linear TV (10.8%), but less than half of broadcast TV alone over that period.

Warner Bros. Discovery-owned Max (formerly HBO Max) was by far the most brutal when it comes to cancelling shows, coming in at 26.9%. That’s probably not a huge surprise, as Max has purged a great deal of content since the closing of the Warner Bros.-Discovery merger in 2022. After CEO David Zaslav took the reins, shows such “Minx,” “Love Life,” and a whole range of children’s programming have all been scrapped in an effort to pare down the company’s sizable debt. HBO originals were also not spared, with “Westworld” getting cut after four seasons in November 2022.

While Netflix is often used as the prime example of the streamer that “cancels everything,” the study found the streaming service actually axed just 10.2% of its shows in the period measured — ranking fifth in the field. That includes high-profile cancellations for shows like the live-action “Cowboy Bebop,” which was iced less than a month after it launched in 2021.

An important caveat to this study: The volume of shows across the different platforms varies widely. Part of what has made Netflix a magnet for cancellation criticism is the sheer volume of its original content — relative to, say, Peacock, for example.

Also contrary to Netflix’s reputation as a hair-trigger series executioner, the streaming service is the only one of the eight monitored in the study that actually improved its cancellation rate every year from 2020 through 2023, making it less busy with the trigger finger over time.

Apple TV+ had the lowest cancellation rate of any outlet by far, at just 4.9%. That’s in part a reflection of the streaming service’s absence of any catalog programming. The tech giant’s streaming arm is best known for its Emmy-winning comedy “Ted Lasso” (which concluded on its own terms after three seasons earlier this year) and dramas like “The Morning Show,” which was renewed for a fourth season ahead of the recent Season 3 premiere. Among the few shows actually canceled at Apple TV+ are “Mr. Corman” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “Shantaram” starring Charlie Hunnam, and “High Desert” starring Patricia Arquette.

Finally, when looking at the total number of series killed across linear and streaming, there is not a significant difference whatsoever. As seen in the chart below, there were 221 cancellations across all of the major streamers from 2020-2023, compared to 193 on linear television.

The report also found that, whether streaming or linear, platforms tended to mostly cancel first season shows rather than shows that had been on the air longer. Streaming platforms had a slight tendency to pull the plug earlier, while broadcast and cable tended to be a bit more patient — though the difference was not necessarily a significant one.

As to whether TV’s cancellation rate has worsened over time (as some might perceive it to be), Luminate data suggests otherwise. Across the board, rates dropped in consecutive years from 2020 through 2023 in streaming, linear TV and series-TV overall, with particularly dramatic declines over the last year while the Hollywood WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes pinched the content-TV pipeline.

Variety's Joe Otterson contributed to this post.


SGC V2.png
bottom of page