Sorry Neil Gaiman, I’m Watching The Sandman One Episode At A Time

The Sandman is a classic fantasy comic with a cult following, a following that might have just been expanded with the successful launch of its Netflix adaptation. Successful might be an understatement, as The Sandman has the eighth highest total viewing hours of any Netflix show since records began last year after just three weeks, at 274.22 million hours. Millions are watching. Bookshops are sold out of the comics. It’s incredibly popular. But Neil Gaiman, who wrote the comic the series is based on and produced the show, says that may not be enough to guarantee a second season.

Why? “Because Sandman is a really expensive show,” he said on Twitter last Sunday. “And for Netflix to release the money to let us make another season we have to perform incredibly well. So yes, we've been the top show in the world for the last two weeks. That still may not be enough.”

It makes sense. Netflix wants to recoup its investment. But Gaiman also responded to a fan asking if binge-watching helped those metrics too, to which he replied: “It does, yes. Because they are looking at ‘completion rates’. So people watching it at their own pace don't show up.”

If any of you were confused by the title of this piece, I obviously don’t mean that Gaiman wants you to watch every episode simultaneously on 12 separate screens like a guard looking at the CCTV feeds of a high security prison. He just means that binge-watching counts for more, as far as Netflix is concerned. The thing is, I don’t like binge watching.

I don’t have a lot of time to watch telly. I’ve got a young daughter who demands my attention for all her waking hours, and after she goes to bed, I cook and eat dinner, and finally sit down, it’s usually 9pm. I’ll use the next hour to watch something with my girlfriend, something we both enjoy, and after she goes to bed I’ll have an hour to myself. What am I binge watching in an hour? I could do three episodes of Bob’s Burgers, but that hardly counts. At the moment, I’m watching The Sandman, one episode every couple of days, but I sometimes use this time to play a game instead. House of the Dragon has just released its first episode, so I might watch that before continuing The Sandman. There’s so much to choose from, and binge watching to get through every episode is just not an option for me.

Simply put, the only situation I could feasibly binge watch a series in is if I took holiday and found childcare. I did that last week, but read four books instead of sitting in front of the telly. Do I regret it? Not at all. I’m not even sure that I enjoy binge watching. I’ve done it for shows before, and near the end I find that it gets to be a slog, and as the stories are peaking, I’m trying to make my way through the crescendo like it’s treacle. If you enjoy watching an entire series in a day as soon as it’s released, more power to you, but those days are behind me. I’ll get around to The Sandman, but it may not be in the way that Mr. Gaiman needs me to in order to maximise the chances of a second season.

Streaming is in a bad way at the moment. Actor Matt Damon went viral when he revealed that the absence of DVD sales is killing smaller, more niche movies while eating hot wings for YouTube interview show Hot Ones. HBO recently removed handfuls of animated shows from its streaming service in an apparent way to recoup taxes. Those shows are now completely unavailable legally. Wiped from the face of the earth, just to save a few pennies for the fat cats at the top.

Cancelling shows is not the same thing as removing them outright, though. Shows get cancelled all the time. It’s disappointing for fans, and especially if things are left on a cliffhanger, but sometimes it happens. If a show can’t recoup its costs, you can’t expect executives to throw more money away at an unprofitable second season. That being said, basing these decisions on the number of binge watches and how fast people complete a series undermines a lot of avid viewers who are taking their time. The Sandman will be on Netflix for the foreseeable future (we hope), and it will accrue more viewers the longer that’s the case. The initial hype will contribute most of the final figure, but it by no means tells the whole story.

I’m no Netflix executive, but I don’t think Mr. Gaiman should be too worried anyway. The Sandman is only just behind the third-week total of The Witcher (94.27 million hours), which got another season, and beat Sex Education (72.87 million hours) which has seen two more seasons to date. I don’t know how expensive those were in comparison to The Sandman – although The Witcher feels like it would match if not exceed its fantasy rival’s budget – but these are good numbers. Would I have had a change of heart and found the time to get in a hefty binge watch if The Sandman was doing worse though? I’m sorry but the answer is no. One of the few benefits of streaming is that I can watch things when I want to, or when I can find the time. And, I repeat my profuse apology to Mr. Gaiman, but I plan on making full use of that benefit.

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