Lockwood & Co was the 4th most watched UK original on Netflix – so why was it cancelled?

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This week, Netflix revealed Lockwood & Co was the 4th most-watched UK original in the first half of 2023 – 7 months after they cancelled it. But if that doesn’t earn you a second season in the streaming era, what will?

It’s a bittersweet day for Lockwood & Co showrunner Joe Cornish.

After a bit of a rollercoaster of a year – his supernatural thriller following a trio of teenage ghost busters debuted, and was promptly cancelled by Netflix, in January and May respectively – he’s just found out his show was the fourth most-watched UK original on the service earlier this year.

Netflix have just released an unprecedented amount of data on their customers’ viewing habits, and if we only take one thing away from the 18,220-row spreadsheet they’ve thrown into the ether, it’s that we’ve all spent a lot of time watching Netflix. For co-CEO Ted Sarandos, that’s surely the point.

The Netflix 2023 ratings list
The Netflix 2023 ratings list

The most watched thing on Netflix in the first half of 2023 was, somewhat surprisingly, FBI drama The Night Agent, racking up an astonishing 812,100,000 hours of viewing in its first four months on the platform alone.

Assuming all those hours came from people who watched the series in its entirety (which they won’t have, so the real figure is likely much higher) that translates to something in the region of 90m sets of eyes.

For context, the BBC’s biggest drama launch of the year so far – David Tennant’s return to Doctor Who – earned an estimated 7.61m views in the UK in its first week of release.

Streamers, typically, are very cagey about releasing this sort of data. The reason Netflix are feeling more generous than most (the company have released top-10 streaming charts since 2021) is, bluntly, because they can afford to be (that, and pressure from the strike negotiations this year). Still comfortably the biggest streaming service on the planet, the data they’ve just dropped in our laps is, to them, worth bragging about.

At the same time, the ludicrous success of some of Netflix’s programming leads to some pretty ruthless – and occasionally bizarre – business decisions. Which brings us back to Lockwood & Co.

Applying our same (admittedly dodgy) maths to Joe Cornish’s spook-hunting series, 113m hours watched translates to just under 20 million accounts watching the whole thing from beginning to end. By most standards, that’s bloody loads (and remember: far more people will have watched the earlier episodes before trailing off).

Ranking fourh in the most-watched UK originals chart, too, is no small feat. When all’s said and done, Lockwood & Co looks likely to be one of the most-watched UK dramas not just on Netflix, but across all platforms, in the first half of 2023.

Add that to generally pretty positive reviews from critics and what looks like a dedicated fanbase online, it’s hard to see what more Cornish and co could have delivered.

And yet, all the way back in May this year, Netflix cancelled it after just one season. For a streamer with almost 250 million subscribers worldwide, views in the tens of millions isn’t always enough. In a statement accompanying the data, the company said:

“Success on Netflix comes in all shapes and sizes, and is not determined by hours viewed alone. We have enormously successful movies and TV shows with both lower and higher hours viewed. It’s all about whether a movie or TV show thrilled its audience — and the size of that audience relative to the economics of the title”.

So what happened with Lockwood and Co.?

According to the weekly figures Netflix has been releasing since 2021, roughly 80m of the show’s total views were taken from the show’s first three weeks on the service. On its second week of release, Lockwood & Co was the most-watched show on Netflix in 13 countries around the world, including the UK, and in the top ten in 61 others.

Three weeks after release though? Its viewership seems to have dropped enough for Netflix to move on.

For the streamer, it seems it just didn’t have the kind of long legs to create general positive buzz for the platform for an extended period, especially considering its effects-heavy (and therefore, expensive) premise. Still, it does seem particularly harsh that a show that did everything right by normal metrics – it was critically well-received, and lots of people watched it – was cancelled after just one season. And also, Netflix has thousands of things available to watch: to land so high up the chart still surely counts for something?

We’ve been asking recently how we’re supposed to measure the success of films in the age of streaming and multiple revenue streams. For a streaming-exclusive show, where even a huge global audience doesn’t guarantee it’s actually made someone any money, it seems social media and good PR are almost more important than anything to do with the programme itself.

Call me old-fashioned, but that feels a little sad.

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