NBC did not “cancel” Hannibal.
Well, okay, that’s maybe a bit confusing. NBC did in fact announce that Season 3 would be the end of the show’s run on the network, following a slide from “problematic” to “abysmal” demographic ratings this summer. But while the rhetoric of cancellation was perhaps logically used to describe this decision, the simple fact is that NBC does not have the authority to cancel Hannibal. They are, in this case, one licensee of an international co-production, who Entertainment Weekly has revealed is paying only $185,000—this is absurdly low for a broadcast series, even in summer—in order to air season three of the show produced by Gaumont International Television. And so what’s really happening here is that Gaumont and its other producing partners—including Sony Pictures Television, who distributes the series and co-produces through its AXN international cable network—are losing their U.S. distributor. [I talked a little bit more about this in a Periscope broadcast you can watch if you’re more connected to nascent social media platforms than I am]
This type of inside knowledge regarding the show’s production is, admittedly, not going to be something your average fan knows. But it’s something fans should know as they make efforts to save the series, because finding a U.S. distributor is very different from finding the show a new home more broadly. They are not asking someone to “save” a show from outright cancellation—they are asking a streaming service or cable channel to step in as a licensee (and potentially production partner) as part of a pre-existing cocktail of financial interests, which shifts the show’s value in significant ways. And so the below is an effort to handicap how this reality shifts the logic by which different parties would be interested in the series.
Note that the following remains highly speculative. One of the challenges of this or any co-production situation is that we don’t know precisely how the economics are broken down—we know Gaumont cut their license fee from $750,000 to $185,000 between seasons one and three, but was the extra money made up through streaming deals and international sales, or did Gaumont choose to shoulder more of the financial burden in the interest of maintaining the NBC partnership? Are any of the international deals predicated on the show being a broadcast rather than streaming property in the United States?* Is there a specific license fee number that Gaumont needs from a U.S. distributor to move forward? All of this is unclear, but I want to break down a few options as best I can.
* Bryan Fuller has confirmed this is likely the case in Variety.
“Without an NBC component, it’s a little complicated. Even some of our international partners, because there’s no NBC component, will pass on a fourth season.”
This reflects the order in which the series was sold: Gaumont secured a U.S. partner first, before then shopping international rights at MIPCOM (an international TV trade show), meaning that international stations/channels were buying a show they knew had the profile/reach/scale of a U.S. broadcast series. This does not mean that new international deals cannot be reached, but it means that existing deals may need to be restructured even if they find a new U.S. distributor.
Specifically, I want to start by focusing on why the show’s value to Netflix is limited. Unlike some of the other streaming services, Netflix understands itself as an increasingly global brand, with its original series launching across its expanding number of countries supported by the platform. When House of Cards and Orange is the New Black first launched, they were in some cases sold into international markets by their respective producers (MRC, Lionsgate) and aired on local channels like any other imports. But as Netflix’s footprint grows, its original programming is now spread throughout its wider network, with internationally-aimed co-productions like Marco Polo and Sense8 explicitly designed to move across territories and build global value for the Netflix brand and build subscriber bases worldwide.
But what this means is that it does not make broader financial sense for Netflix to invest in a show that they can only air in the United States. I know of at least one other international co-production that Netflix investigated picking up following the loss of a U.S. distributor, but the hangup in that case was that the show’s producer had just completed a deal for international rights that precluded Netflix having control of the show’s global distribution. And given that Sony is handling global distribution, and AXN’s significant stake in the series, it is unlikely that Netflix would be having conversations about anything more than the show airing in the United States. And that does not have the same value for a global company as it would for those with a stronger domestic focus.
Amazon is also globally-oriented, although on a smaller scale—the site’s streaming service is available in the United States, Germany, and the U.K., with likely plans to expand. This makes a show like Hannibal potentially attractive as a way of expanding the brand’s profile in the competitive U.S. streaming market, where it’s clear Amazon is focusing their attention. They also have the benefit of having existing U.S. streaming rights to Hannibal, through a deal made with Gaumont following the show’s first season. (This would also be part of what complicates a Netflix deal, as it’s highly unlikely they’d distribute new episodes of a show without having the rights to distribute earlier seasons).*
* Fuller has also confirmed this, telling The Hollywood Reporter “there’s certain avenues that I know we wouldn’t be able to do, for instance Netflix because our deal with Amazon precludes a Netflix component. So it’s not a good deal for them to make even though they’ve been so kind in terms of their enthusiasm for the show.” While Gaumont’s existing relationship with Netflix through both Hemlock Grove and Narcos likely has them interested, the Amazon streaming deal complicates this too much to make it a likely option.
It appears that fans are getting a stock response that Amazon is focused on developing original productions as opposed to saving existing series when they are contacting customer service, and that has indeed been the company line—they’re apparently in talks to pick up busted CBS pilot Sneaky Pete (produced by Sony, coincidentally), but they are likely to put it through a version of their pilot process to reclaim its development as their own. But Amazon has also purchased U.S. rights to international series like Catastrophe and framed them as originals, and so the idea of entering into a co-production situation from a branding perspective is different from picking up a canceled U.S. show like Hulu did with The Mindy Project. The burden is much smaller, and if the brand value is still there, I don’t think Amazon’s stock customer service response will override broader value propositions.
This is another obvious target, in part because they just picked up a canceled U.S. series in The Mindy Project, and also because Hannibal is available on the streaming service. But because NBC’s stake in the production is so limited, NBC’s co-ownership of Hulu doesn’t actually make it as attractive an option as Mindy—produced by NBC Universal, despite airing on Fox—from a production perspective. At the same time, though, they are a U.S.-only distributor, with no international component, meaning they function more like a domestic cable channel than some of the other streaming services. And so they have done licensing deals as part of their “Hulu Exclusives” branding with a number of series from the U.K. and Canada at various points in its life, meaning there is some precedent for them serving as a U.S. distributor in the way Hannibal requires.
But it’s weird that Sony’s own Crackle service seems to be so absent from these discussions, which says a lot about why Sony might be interested in having something to work with. The service is launching its first original drama, The Art of More, along with the high-profile—if not high-culture—swing of the Joe Dirt sequel. They are also a purely domestic distributor, meaning that they could work as a logical U.S. partner in conjunction with Sony’s international distribution of the series.
It’s a logical fit, but it’s unclear just where Crackle fits into the broader synergy at Sony. Just look at Community, which as a Sony-produced show was expected to land at Crackle over another streaming provider, but it was Yahoo! who ended up making that deal. Corporate synergy would suggest Crackle as an obvious home, but if the arms of the company aren’t in coordination, it’s tougher to know how that synergy is understood by those involved, and where a show like Hannibal would fit within it.
Although the list of potential U.S. distributors for Hannibal is not infinite, it is also extensive. At the license fee reported, a large number of smaller cable channels (Sundance, Pivot) or streaming services (Yahoo!, AMC’s beta testing Shudder horror network) might be willing to make the financial commitment to make a big splash in original programming with a show like Hannibal. The series’ economics have always made the inevitable conclusion of its run on NBC—I honestly thought this would happen last year—a more open-ended proposition, especially when the show is an independent production. While I think the niche audience the show developed makes a streaming service more likely, the door is more open in this case than it would be a traditionally canceled series.
But it is not wide open, and each of the outlets above have reasons why they might not be willing to take on the license agreement that Gaumont is offering. It’s also unclear what kind of deal Gaumont wants. The early cancellation—given that NBC intends to air all 13 episodes of the third season—gives them plenty of time to work out a deal before the season ends, but what’s unclear is what exactly they’re looking for. While Fuller is on the record as wanting to continue, and giving the show a 50/50 chance in a more recent interview, what is Gaumont’s bottom line? Those are the types of financial details that will remain opaque, and place Hannibal’s fate at the mercy of an uncertain design.
Edit: Customer Service Reps
So since writing this, fans have started posting screenshots of their interactions with customer service representatives from Netflix and Amazon, using them to make two points that contradict the above handicapping. The first is that Netflix seems highly enthusiastic, and the second is that Amazon has a company stance against decisions like this one.
There is legitimately nothing that can be read into this. Customer service representatives are there to do a specific job: to make the customer feel they are being heard. In Netflix’s case, as demonstrated on the left, they have clearly taken on a strong policy of engaging with the user on their own preferences. They want to paint a picture of Netflix as a site for media lovers staffed by media lovers, and engage accordingly. The fact they’re receiving a lot of notes about a series means nothing if the economics of the deal don’t work, but the people fielding these chats have no idea how this works. They know they’re supposed to make the customer feel heard. While putting in a request with Netflix is not without value, you cannot read into their response on any level. It is meaningless.
Amazon is more complicated, but it’s clear they don’t have the same policy. They have a clear party line that their customer service representatives—likely working out of call centers outside of the United States—have been asked to deliver when people ask them to pick up existing series. The fact is that Jenn M. knows nothing about the specifics of Hannibal’s case as an international co-production with an existing streaming deal with Amazon. Jenn M. has no reason to know this. It is not part of her job description. Her job description is to send you the same email they’d send someone who is asking Amazon to resurrect CBS’ short-lived 2008 sitcom Worst Week starring Kyle Bornheimer.
There has always been a range of tweets and Tumblr posts from people who are in territories other than the United States who are posting or asking questions about Hannibal in their own countries. If the show continues for a fourth season, it is possible that nothing might change—if you are in the U.K., the show’s rights could potentially just remain with Sky, meaning there would be no change in how you access the show. It’s one of the challenges of this deal, as it’s not like Hannibal is losing its international distribution—that’s the only thing that’s theoretically stable, provided Gaumont is able to renew those deals while also finding an American partner. As noted in the above additions, that may not be the case in all instances, but the presence of those international deals (and the possibility of continuing or at least replacing them) changes the metrics in this case.
Accordingly, if fans wanted to also talk to their local broadcasters about their continued support of the show, that would seem a more direct strategy than talking to local arms of streaming sites or focusing your attention on U.S. sources that—depending on your location—will never see any of your business.
I almost don’t even want to address this given that it gives them more promotion, but a nascent TV Everywhere channel building a streaming platform took to Twitter to tell fans they were trying to save Hannibal shortly after its cancellation, creating a legitimately decent amount of people tweeting and retweeting about the site’s efforts. Beyond the fact that this is a nascent platform peddling mainly in obscure web series and with no legitimate place within U.S. distribution systems, the fact they claimed to have contacted NBC—who no longer has any role in the show—can be read as a clear sign they’re using this as a way to build profile and gain subscribers and have fundamentally zero chance of playing any role in this decision. Props to their social media intern for managing to get a few fans to subscribe to their service with some hashtag spamming, but the jig is up.
Edit: Since I wrote this, TVTibi has legitimately shocked me by refusing to go away. They have even taken to Reddit dismissing my initial evaluation of their capacity to help the show, pushing back against the people who posted it by joking, “If it’s on the Internet, it must be true, right?” They also did a lengthy Q&A with the Geekiary where they continue to claim that they are in the midst of serious negotiations, writing as though them having access to the show is an eventuality, and speaking with certainty about negotiations that would be uncertain even if they were a viable production partner.
Let me be absolutely unequivocal: TVTibi is in over their heads, and has no understanding of the situation they are in. They are a TV Everywhere service that operates on a global scale (so: basically YouTube you pay for), and use this as part of their value to Hannibal as though the series isn’t already sold in global markets, which would preclude anyone from selling Global rights to them. They don’t have a clear grasp of this situation, and to present themselves as absolutely or even theoretically having access to Hannibal in the future is purely a strategy to draw subscribers, which helps show growth, which helps them draw investors. I don’t know that I would go so far as to say they are scamming Hannibal fans (which was a problem during the efforts to save Community), but let me be completely clear: they are not a viable home for Hannibal, will never be a viable home, and the idea that they’re presenting themselves as such is fundamentally and completely disingenuous.