Were the viewership numbers unusually dire? We don't know, as streaming viewership numbers are rarely made public, and no one involved is blaming viewership, at least not yet. Reports Warner Bros. had issues with North Carolina's tax breaks have been denied by the state, but budgetary problems still seem likely, given the season's originally planned 13 episodes ended up cut down to just 10.
Shortly after the official announcement of Swamp Thing's cancellation, rumors started circulating DC Universe's future as a whole was in jeopardy. WarnerMedia is allegedly "reevaluating" the streaming service. While Titans is already renewed for a second season and the live-action Stargirl and animated Harley Quinn have yet to premiere, these programs could very well be transferred to other outlets should DC Universe end. It wouldn't be the first time that AT&T-WarnerMedia has killed a niche streaming service, as former subscribers to FilmStruck and DramaFever can attest.
As Griffin Newman, star of the recently canceled Amazon series The Tick, pointed out on Twitter, the cancellation of Swamp Thing and potential end of DC Universe is a symptom of just how hard it is to actually make money off streaming. For all its subscriber growth and wide variety of popular original series, Netflix actually loses money as a company. Netflix gets away with greenlighting expensive, high quality series and movies because it's willing to take on over $12 billion dollars in debt to do so.
The crazy cancellation news train will not stop any time soon. The answer you’ll keep seeing is “the numbers didn’t add up” or some variation on that. It’s absurdly expensive to fill an entire streaming platform with the level of quality and production value that’s now expected.— Griffin Newman (@GriffLightning) June 6, 2019
As every major entertainment company from Disney to Warner to Comcast to Apple is planning to roll out new streaming services in the coming years, the streaming bubble is only expanding. The big question raised by the fate of Swamp Thing and DC Universe is: Will this bubble end up bursting due to a potentially unsustainable financial model?
Netflix has taken a huge gamble in being as aggressive in creating new streaming content as it is. The company's betting that eventually its original library will be so big that it can slow down its aggressive spending and eventually stop losing cash. That it was able to pull off its massive original content spending at all is largely thanks to how its streaming service was already successful for six years before it tried its hand at producing its own content. With the barrage of new services launching in the coming years, convincing people to subscribe while at the same time spending the money required to make attention-catching originals is gonna be tricky.
DC Universe appears to be on its last legs just as new details about the pricing of WarnerMedia's planned future streaming service are incoming. AT&T is supposedly looking at a subscription price between $16 and $17 per month. That's more expensive than any of its competitors. To be fair, it's only a dollar or two more than a subscription to HBO Now, which this new service will include. The big question is whether HBO cable subscribers, who can stream HBO Go as part of their cable subscription, get a discount or if this new servicing is demanding cable subscribers either cut the cord or spend excessively to enjoy whatever exclusive content it might provide.
The appeal of cord cutting up until now has been about saving money over cable. With the number of streaming services increasing, suddenly saving money isn't a real consumer advantage. Trying to negotiate a price point that enough people are willing to pay while also being able to afford to produce the high quality shows viewers demand is going to be a struggle. Swamp Thing and DC Universe were not the first victims of this market, and they won't be the last. How many streamers will figure out how to make money and how many will perish?