Netflix swallows reported $200M loss on ‘Marco Polo,’ tacitly concedes rare original-series miss

Marco Polo was a rare flop among Netflix's original content. Not that Netflix admits to having flops.

While Netflix steadily built its original content business into a $5 billion-a-year juggernaut based on solid reviews from TV critics, Hollywood awards recognition and—most of all, explosive subscriber growth both domestically and abroad—the pricey period drama "Marco Polo" always stood out as a sore thumb.

Weinstein Co. for Starz originally produced the series, which debuted on Netflix in 2014 with terrible reviews and very little awards recognition, belying the performance of platform original heavyweights like "House of Cards" and "Orange Is the New Black." 

On Monday, Netflix did what TV distributors always do when a series underperforms. The SVOD giant confirmed that Marco Polo, which reportedly netted Netflix a $200 million loss across its two seasons, would not be back for a third season. 

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"We want to thank and are grateful to our partners on Marco Polo from the actors, whose performances were enthralling and top-notch; to the committed producers, including John Fusco, Dan Minahan, Patrick Macmanus, and their crew, who poured their hearts into the series; and of course Harvey [Weinstein], David [Glasser] and our friends at TWC, who were great collaborators from start to finish," Netflix VP of original content, Cindy Holland, said Monday in a statement.

Marco Polo isn’t the first Netflix original not to advance beyond its first or second season—Bloodline, Hemlock Grove and Lillyhammer also lived short lives. But it might be Netflix’s biggest flop so far… not that Netflix admits to having flops. 

Netflix famously doesn’t release the audience metrics of its shows, and has always insisted its measuring stick is different. 

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter in August, Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said Marco Polo had accomplished “what it was supposed to do,” helping Netflix with its ambitious global expansion.

"Marco Polo is one of those shows for us [where viewership doesn't matter to international audiences]," he said. "It's hugely popular all throughout Asia and Europe, and there's a lot of focus on if your neighbors might be watching it.

The show’s perceived quality by U.S. critics and viewers was “irrelevant,” Sarandos said. 

Of course, a bad show is usually a bad show in any language—and on any platform or via any business model, for that matter. Notably, Marco Polo scored a 24% rating on critics aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, with former Variety TV critic Brian Lowry noting back in 2014, “While Marco Polo possesses scope, scale and an inordinate amount of exposed skin, the series exhibits only a sporadic pulse. That leaves a property that can be fun taken strictly on its own terms, but deficient in the binge-worthy qualities upon which Netflix’s distribution system has relied.”

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