Back in 2009, the Sci Fi Channel changed its name with the goal of reaching a larger audience. Network president Dave Howe said in 2009, “But we’re more than just space and aliens and the future – the three things most people think of when they think of ‘sci fi.’ What this does is hopefully give us the best of both worlds. You keep the heritage, but also open up to a broader range of content.”
Syfy kept the heritage by ending ‘Battlestar Galactica’ and ‘Stargate Atlantis’ in 2009, by cancelling ‘Caprica’ before people could find it, and by recently cancelling ‘Stargate Universe’ and ‘Eureka.’ The name change allowed the network to replace traditional sci-fi programs with broader shows like ‘Warehouse 13’ and ‘Alphas.’ To reach an even larger audience, Syfy aired wrestling and reality paranormal shows like ‘Ghost Hunters’ and ‘Paranormal Witness.’
Did the name change work? Yes. According to a recent press release, 2011 will be Syfy’s most watched year, having an average viewership of 1.33 million, which is up 10% from 2010. The network rose 5% in adults 18-49 (the coveted advertising group), 1% in adults 25-54, 14% in adults 18-34, 21% in male adults 18-34, and 7% in female adults 18-34. With a growing young audience, Syfy will be determined to stick with what works because a growing young adult audience will make the network attractive to advertisers. Although the network gets revenue from cable subscribers, as a basic cable channel, Syfy needs advertising dollars to be viable and keep programs on the air.
And Syfy knows what works for them, which is why the network has hired five executives for its expanding reality department. As reported by THR, Robyn Lattaker-Johnson, Wayne Sampson, and Colin Whelan are the new vice presidents of alternative programming, and Tori Socha and Andrew Whitney are the new directors of Syfy’s unscripted department. According to the department’s senior vice president, Tim Krubsack, the five new hires are needed because Syfy “will be launching a record number of unscripted series in 2012. With their diverse experiences, creative sensibilities and stellar accomplishments, these five very gifted executives will play a key role in shaping that programming expansion and the continuing growth of the Syfy brand.”
I have stated before that Syfy is like any other network, and this move proves it. The executives at the NBCUniversal-owned network make decisions based on the bottom line just like every other executive in Hollywood. Syfy cancelled ‘Eureka’ because the show was not profitable enough, not because of ratings. Reality programs are cheap to make (small cast, small crews, and a small production staff), but cost is not the only factor. People watch Syfy’s reality shows. Good ratings mean Syfy can charge advertisers more money to air commercials during the shows. Low production costs with money coming in from advertisers equals a good profit for Syfy.
What does this mean for people like me who tune into Syfy for original programming? This probably means not a lot of original programs are coming. Syfy’s original programming president Mark Stern did tell the ‘Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’ that ‘Battlestar Galatica: Blood and Chrome’ is still alive, but the network is “trying to figure out the economics right now.” The show is heavily dependent on virtual sets, so a lot of post-production work would be necessary for each episode. The pilot was recently completed in November 2011, and Syfy has said that the show “might” air in 2013. Also, Syfy has a few original programs in development, but with the biggest news being the increase in unscripted programs, I wonder just how many new original shows Syfy will air in the upcoming months.
I am not looking forward to more reality programs on Syfy. Can anything be done to stop Syfy from airing more unscripted shows? Yes. This is going to sound really simple, but the way to stop Syfy and any Hollywood entity from making a product is to stop consuming it. I used to work in the industry, and while my career was short, I can verify that numbers rule in Hollywood. If a product makes money, expect more of that product. If people did not watch ‘Paranormal Witness,’ then Syfy would cancel the show, but people are watching, so the network is giving its audience more. I know this is frustrating, but television is a business, a ruthless business, and Syfy makes these moves in order to survive.