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Sense8 was too expensive for too small of an audience, Netflix chief says

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It was no Game of Thrones

Jane Ackroyd/Netflix

The cancellation of Sense8 has been one of the most controversial decisions Netflix has made when it comes to its content.

Since it was announced last week, Netflix has reaffirmed there’s no chance the show will be returning, but the company has divulged a little more information about what led to the cancellation. Ted Sarandos, chief content officer for the company, told a group of reporters that the issue came down to how much the company was spending on the series and the small pool of viewers actually watching.

“When I say that, a big expensive show for a huge audience is great,” Sarandos said. “A big, expensive show for a tiny audience is hard even in our model to make that work very long.”

To put the cost into perspective, here’s a quick comparison. Experts estimated that Sense8 was costing Netflix $9 million an episode. Game of Thrones, HBO’s biggest series and one of its most successful, costs approximately $6 million an episode. Not only does HBO’s series cost $3 million an episode less to make, but it has become a cultural phenomenon. It is the most watched show on the network, pulling in 8.9 million viewers for the sixth season finale alone, and garners award nominations every single season.

Simply put, Game of Thrones is worth the amount of money HBO is spending on it. There is a return on investment. Without numbers for Netflix, it’s impossible to say just how many people are watching Sense8, but Sarandos statement implies it wasn’t nearly as big of an audience that the company was hoping for — and it certainly wasn’t seeing a return on its investment.

Fans were understandably upset when the show was cancelled, but this is part of Netflix’s plan to cancel more shows. CEO Reed Hastings told Recode during Code Conference that they wanted to fail a little more; push the envelope and cancel the series that weren’t doing as well or being well received by critics and audiences. Sarandos said that, like Silicon Valley, failure should be celebrated.

“It’s one of those things that you know you’re pushing the envelope if every once in a while you fall,” Sarandos said. “And you go back and start over again. If you have hit after hit after hit, you question yourself — are you trying hard enough? Are you too conventional?”

Sarandos didn’t imply what other shows may be on the chopping block but it appears that almost no show is safe anymore.