Media-streaming veteran Netflix (NFLX 1.08%) may have to learn some new tricks. The company is taking its sweet time analyzing whether or not Neil Gaiman's Sandman should be re-signed for a second season, and the reason behind this delay points to an important issue: Netflix doesn't know what to do with this type of thought-provoking material -- yet.
The traditional binge-watching model
Netflix used to have a simple, clear-cut method for publishing original series. From good old House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black to contemporary fare such as Squid Game or Cobra Kai, the company has consistently produced and published entire seasons at once. Sure, there have been exceptions. For example, season 4 of Stranger Things was split into two smaller batches, topical talk shows like Chelsea or Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj needed to stay on top of weekly news, and the COVID-19 pandemic scrambled the entire publishing schedule in 2021. But, generally speaking, Netflix presents new material in binge-worthy seasonal batches.
The company's slow roll on Sandman's renewal-or-cancellation decision suggests that Netflix may have spent so much time and effort on the analysis of blazing season binges that it doesn't know what to do with a different publishing model.
To be clear, Sandman was released with the usual full-season splash, followed by an hour-long bonus episode three weeks later. The audience behavior should be easy to analyze, then. Most people burn through the 10-episode season in a few days, going back to rewatch their favorite episodes and that bonus item later on. Easy-peasy, just like everything else.
Sandman plays by strange rules
Well, no. As it turns out, this show is different.
Neil Gaiman, who wrote the original material and keeps a watchful eye over the Netflix show's production, explained what's going on in a Tweet on September 21:
Sandman Season 1 dropped Aug 5th. The data harvesting has only just finished and is complicated by a lot of people not binge-watching it, but spreading it out, letting episodes sink in before watching the next. Telling @netflix to hurry up won't make decisions happen faster.
Many Sandman viewers are consuming this show slowly, savoring each episode for a while before moving on to the next. Unfortunately, Netflix isn't used to this viewership model, so the powers that be are also letting the data sink in before jumping to conclusions.
So Sandman's audience figures may look artificially small since plenty of fully committed viewers simply take a long time to go through the material. I'm one of them, currently digesting the heart-wrenching episode 8 ("Playing House") and looking forward to the last handful of installments. People like me could make Netflix interpret Sandman's numbers in a darker light, perhaps resulting in the show being canceled.
This is a learning experience for Netflix
That would be too bad. I'm taking my time because Sandman demands that kind of attention. I'm hoping for more material, and it wouldn't even bother me if season two is delivered weekly to inspire water-cooler chats along the way. Maybe that's the best way to deliver genuinely thought-provoking shows, after all.
I don't run Netflix and have no unique insight into what the company is thinking about this show's future. But I don't see this slow renewal analysis as a failure, even if Netflix ends up making an unwished-for decision.
Whatever happens will be a learning experience for Netflix's leadership, Sandman viewers, and Neil Gaiman's production team. This event might change how Netflix delivers brain-tickling material in the future. And the company should find it helpful to have this incident under its belt the next time it comes up against an unusual viewership model -- like, for example, if and when the time comes to consider the third season of Sandman. The company's willingness to learn from challenging moments makes the stock a no-brainer buy for the long haul.
This is a teaching moment: data-crunching, content-nurturing. Searching for subscribers.And I am hope.