Has SYFY lost touch, or is it “Just Business”?

science fiction 6 comments

I’ll Admit, I was one of those people who watched the first few episodes of Stargate Universe, then stopped watching. Apparently, according to SYFY brass, that is one major reason why the series was now cancelled after 2 seasons. Now 2 seasons is a pretty respectable run these days, and since the Stargate franchise has been airing for the past 12 years, it’s hard to feel too bad for the Stargate casts, crew, fans or especially production team. The main producers had a hand in all of the Stargate spinoffs, and will likely get deals to develop more shows in the near future since they have established themselves in the genre. So, what’s my point? Well, we keep hearing that the decision to cancel SGU was “just business”, and that the show was not generating enough views to justify the high expense of continued production. There’s no doubt that the live views weren’t there to justify the show, but where SYFY and just about all other traditional television networks have lost touch is by failing to count the DVR, online, and Netflix views of their programs. Or is there a different failing?

It’s widely known that more and more people are deciding not to watch tv live, and are either recording programs to DVR to watch later, watching online, or watching the whole season of a show in a few days when it is finally available on streaming or DVD services like Netflix or Hulu. So why don’t these views count? I’m just a lowly webseries guy, so I can’t claim to know the inner workings or decision making process of a major network exec, but it’s pretty clearly because of pressure from advertisers. They are still paying lots of money to air their commercials, and they know that when we DVR a program, or watch it any other way than live, we aren’t seeing those ads that they paid so much for. I get it, if their ads aren’t being seen, then they are going to complain. Networks will make changes to keep them happy, and to keep their money flowing so that they can keep making shows. So, if SGU isn’t generating live views, then it needs to be replaced by something that does.


Advertisers and networks could work together to change the model. If shows like Stargate Universe are cancelled, and there is a huge fan uprising (as there has been), that indicates a passionate base that will be lost when the show is gone. And if its’ replacement is WWE wrestling, or reality (“unscripted”) television, then that passionate group of sci fi fans will be driven online, or elsewhere to find the type of entertainment they want. These niche audiences may not be as numerous as the mainstream viewer, but they are about 100 times more passionate, and they have disposable income and like to support things that seem to support what they like. So it might be a good thing to try to keep them engaged. As that aforementioned lowly webseries creator, it’s a good thing for me if audiences are driven online to find high-quality, independently produced programs. But it’s not a good thing for advertisers, unless those advertisers also come on line and seek out the shows that their former audiences are now watching. Currently, they’re not really doing that…they’re sticking with the traditional model, and cycling through different types of programs, hoping to find and keep that ever-shrinking live tv audience. It’s driving them to increasingly low quality programming, which is (by necessity) cheaper, because since advertisers aren’t willing to pay as much for ads if the audiences aren’t there, networks have to make cheaper shows. The reality is, this is all happening because FEWER PEOPLE ARE WATCHING LIVE TV! We’ve been over that, Right?

Here’s what I propose: Hey, advertisers-you already know the demographics you’re trying to reach, so choose 10 webseries that attract that demographic and sponsor them for a season. Since I can produce a whole season of Causality for less than you pay for ONE commercial you produce for live tv (let alone the airtime), you could sponsor my show and 9 others. You don’t need to undertake the trouble of producing your own webseries-there are a ton of them out here that are worth backing. Put a team in charge of finding the ones that would reach who you want to reach, and approach them. As long as you don’t demand complete changes of theme, style or story, most of my webseries creator cohorts would jump at the chance to actually pay their casts and crew (and their rent.) Sounds easy…and it could be.

It’s Revolutionary. And simple. Put 10-20% of the advertising dollars that are currently being spent into high quality, independently produced online entertainment, maximize the return by spreading it around to multiple shows since there are so many out there, and reach your audience. And spend the other 80-90% on the traditional advertising that has worked for the last 60 years (but won’t for much longer.) As the pool of live viewers drops and online views grow, put more of that budget into online entertainment, and begin sponsoring 20 webseries, or 30…The sky’s the limit. But please, for the love of God, stop rewarding terrible reality shows that pander to the lowest common denominator for holding on to the throwbacks who can’t pay for or figure out a DVR machine or the Internets. News flash-they probably aren’t buying too much of your stuff anyway-or won’t be for long.

And for the people like me who someday plan to watch the rest of Stargate Universe, only recently finished watching Firefly, and still need to find time to watch Star Trek: Deep Space 9-we get to watch these shows without much interference from advertisers now, so ponder that, big ad agencies. So, though we’re sad there aren’t more episodes of our favorite programs, perhaps that frustration at seeing a beloved show cancelled inspired some of us to create our own programs, and build an audience for them online. We’re out here, advertisers. Take a look.

I’ll be seeing you!

Posted by   @   May 16, 2011 6 comments
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May 16, 2011
3:14 pm

I understand your point Ralph. However, networks have been using Live + 7 DVR numbers as part of their tracking for quite some time. It’s what’s kept shows like CHUCK and FRINGE going. For key audiences that advertisers like, some shows are gaining 50% to 70% (like FRINGE) more eyeballs thanks to DVRs. And I know we love to beat up on reality shows, however, in the key 18-49 demographic, they do tend to do very, very well. Again, I understand the intention, but ignoring a now basic tracking metric that’s been around since 2006, and saying networks aren’t using DVR data, when they in fact are, isn’t away to entice advertisers and networks to an idea like this.

May 16, 2011
4:16 pm
#2 Ralph Fontaine :

Thanks for the comment Charles. I know that I generalized somewhat, and I’m aware that some networks do use DVR numbers, but the SYFY network admits to not using them when deciding what to cancel, and their cancellation of SGU was the basis for this article. Even if some networks are using DVR numbers, they are not using Netflix or online views when making programming decisions, so my point that many networks are alienating viewers and pushing them online is still valid. And I agree, reality programming is getting views, but my contention there is that advertisers could continue to support successful reality shows AND take a portion of their former ad budgets and apply that to online sponsorships or advertising. Obviously there are more complications and factors at play here than I address, but the truth is that advertisers will need to acknowledge that a shift is taking place, and adjust their strategies accordingly.

May 22, 2011
12:37 am

Hey Ralph,

Loved reading your post. I just discovered about the existence of CAUSALITY, so I’m new to your world.

I know exactly what pain you’re experiencing because I’m also involved in creating a web series too. It’s called DIVINE: THE SERIES, and the team that is putting it together totally understand where you’re coming from.

With our show, we’re not just trying to make a worthy piece of entertainment. We’re also trying to prove that there can be a working revenue model for online series. One of our goals is to show The Powers That Be, aka the traditional Hollywood machine, that you can help produce online shows and see a return on your investment. This business model can work right now. If we can prove the model with DIVINE, then we’re hoping that it will open eyes and doors for this whole new way of making shows for a wider, global audience.

I was a fan of SGU and saddened to see it get canceled. I love serious SF and I was enjoying the fresh coat of paint applied to the STARGATE TV universe. When you get the time, do catch up with it.

Best wishes on CAUSALITY and I’ll keep an eye on how your show progresses.

May 23, 2011
9:12 am
#4 Ralph Fontaine :

THanks for finding us, Patrick! And what you said about proving that “there can be a working revenue model for online series” echoes exactly our goal on the business side for Causality. First, we aim to create a show with all the pieces that make traditional entertainment work: good writing, acting, and production value, then do what we can to convince audiences and advertisers that quality independent online entertainment is here to stay, and that partnerships with advertisers can be mutually beneficial.

I’m always glad to hear about other people who have the same viewpoint, and who are creating something else with those goals in mind. At this point, the more we share resources and band together to prove that people want to see what we are creating, and that advertisers would benefit from tapping into that audience, the better it is for both of our shows.

I’ll definitely check out your show, and wish you the best of luck as you continue. Maybe sometime we could collaborate on a podcast or blog post?

Thanks for commenting, and please keep following our progress, we have big plans!

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