Photo By: Thibault Penin from Unsplash

It’s no secret that Netflix, and to a lesser extent other streaming services, are becoming big decision makers when it comes to the types of media we consume. 

Whether a show gets cancelled, renewed, or produced in the first place is often in the hands of these large platforms. The stories that get told are increasingly determined by numbers, metrics and algorithms. What’s worrying about all this is that the range of stories worth telling and the shows worth making seems to be getting narrower and narrower. 

“The Babysitter’s Club” was a book series that I read religiously as a kid. Like the title would imply, it follows the lives of a group of young teenage girls as they take on babysitting jobs for family and friends in their small town. There are well over 100 books in the series and I got the first 10 or so passed down to me from my mom. The pages were yellow from age and the spines were cracked, evidence that someone else had read and loved them just as much as I was going to. 

I was a big reader as a kid, so I blew through those first 10 books like it was a challenge, often reading well past my bedtime thanks to a flashlight and the cover of a blanket. After I read the first books that I got my hands on, I had to find more. Since there were well over 100, I had plenty of options. I’d get old copies as gifts from family friends and borrow every copy that my elementary school library had to offer. 

It’s a long winded way of saying that I loved those books, a lot. So, when I saw that Netflix was going to adapt the stories into a TV series, I was thrilled. I was also a little bit prepared for disappointment, but the first season surpassed my expectations by a lot. Like the books, it was targeted to an audience of kids and families, but unlike the books, it had been adapted to a modern setting. The books always depicted its protagonists dealing with real life issues, so while a story arc about one of the babysitters looking after a trans child, and ultimately standing up for her in the face of a dismissive adult wasn’t something taken directly from one of the books, it certainly rang true to the spirit of the series. 

The first season was good, and I’m saying that as an adult who’s notoriously hard to please when it comes to film adaptations of their favourite childhood stories. The second season was good too, except, it wasn’t as widely watched. The show was critically acclaimed, it won awards, and in terms of viewership, it was going pretty strong. Despite this, the show was ultimately cancelled. 

The show’s creator, Rachel Shukert, gave a lengthy interview with Vulture where she discussed the process of working with Netflix. She explained that Netflix makes decisions based on what drives subscriber growth. A show might do well in North America, but as Shukert explained, according to the streaming service, global success is what drives subscriber growth. 

Shukert also talked about completion rates. According to her, because the show took longer for people to complete than something like Squid Game, it wasn’t seen as performing well by Netflix’s internal metrics. A younger audience likely won’t sit and watch several hours of television at a time. Families who watched the show likely weren’t watching six episodes of television back-to-back either. 

Netflix collects a lot of data, they make decisions based on that data, and often, those decisions influence what creators feel is best to create for the platform. 

Earlier in this article, I mentioned how much I enjoyed these stories as a kid, and part of the reason for that was that they existed in a sort of middle ground. At 10 years old, I certainly didn’t want to read Berenstain Bears books anymore, but I wasn’t ready to move to the adult section. Young girls aren’t a demographic that’s particularly well catered to in the media, and that’s part of what made the series so refreshing. 

In the Vulture interview, Shukert said, “It seems like girls are expected to go straight from Doc McStuffins to Euphoria.

The Babysitters Club was different from other shows on Netflix’s platform, and to most people, that seems fine. There can be room for both The Babysitters Club and Squid Game. If we read into this cancellation, we can see that Netflix’s own metrics don’t seem to agree. 

It’s worth considering why we value the stories that we do. We can make movie after movie about Spider-Man and those stories are still deemed worth telling, both by data and public opinion. The only difference I can think of between my mom handing me an old copy of “The Babysitter’s Club,” and someone handing their kid an old Batman comic book is that one of those stories was written about and for girls, while the other was not. 

Netflix’s decisions are made based on data, but how that data is interpreted still requires human interaction. The data Netflix had about The Babysitters Club showed that it was watched by families, that it had a target audience of young girls, who watched it consistently, ultimately they made the decision that there wasn’t enough value in any of that to continue producing the show.

Different people want and need different things from the media. Of course, data is important for a streaming service, just like it was important for cable TV, but allowing it to be the most important deciding factor in the stories that get told does everybody a disservice. 

For a long time, Netflix seemed to advertise something for everyone on the platform. With numbers and data driving what gets renewed, and even what gets made in the first place, it seems that that is becoming less and less true as time goes on.