Sci-Fi Storm

On Syfy (and other networks) canceling beloved shows…

by on Dec.16, 2010, under Television

Having actually met and spoken with at an informal level the management at Syfy, I have a new found respect for the tough decisions they have to make.

That doesn’t mean I like the decisions. I can just understand them. I can’t understand why the cast weren’t informed properly, but that’s a different issue.

I keep seeing the same questions – why don’t you take into account digital downloads, DVD sales, etc. The fact is they just don’t count. A network does not make any money on those things – those go to the production company, which is NOT the same as the network. It’s like this:

BigBoxStore sells the Zphone. They are the exclusive retail supplier of them – they signed a contract with TechZ to sell X number of the phones exclusively so that no one else can sell it at their stores. But that contract does not prevent TechZ from selling the phone online, or selling through other retailers overseas, or selling accessories through others.

It costs a certain amount for TechZ to make the phone, period. TechZ wants to make some money on each, so there is a wholesale markup when they give the price to BigBoxStore. BigBoxStore also wants to make money, and they have their own costs as well just to sell it, so there is the retail markup.

But the phone doesn’t sell as well as expected. BigBoxStore has to cut the price – cutting in to their margin. When they sell the phones they contracted for and it comes to the point of renewing the contract, they try to negotiate a lower cost. TechZ has either figured out how to make it cheaper, and therefore can maintain their own margin, or not. So they can cut the price, or not. They choose not to cut the price.

Now BigBoxStore has a decision to make – continue selling the Zphone for the lower margin, or decide to not renew the contract and try to sell something else that occupied the same amount of space that has a higher margin. That could mean something that costs the same but sells better, or something that costs cheaper and gives them a better margin.

The fact that TechZ can sell the Zphone online, or overseas, or whatever doesn’t matter in the slightest to BigBoxStore, as it doesn’t affect their bottom line (and in some ways can hurt it).

TechZ now has a problem – they have lost a major distributor, and they depend on the income of ALL the sources to afford to produce the Zphone. They can’t afford it just on online and overseas sales. So they can try to find another distributor. But other distributors know what happened, and will be leary of taking it on – at least without changes designed to increase the margin again (read – make it cheaper). So it’s really the same problem TechZ faced with BigBoxStore.

Syfy is BigBoxStore, MGM Television is TechZ, and the Zphone is SGU. Ratings and demographics represent the margins. Advertisers pay for commercial time based on those statistics, and the advertisers are in many ways the consumer buying the product. If the statistics don’t encourage the advertisers to pay enough, then Syfy can’t afford to pay for the program. And unfortunately big special effects-laden space shows are expensive.

Having an ultra-loyal built-in audience is nice, but if it isn’t the size that the advertisers demand, then it just isn’t enough.

Syfy has at least tried to keep them related to the genres that helped make them what they are. And reality programming is relatively cheap in comparison in most cases. And I’ve just recently started watching them, and I’m kind of liking them all.

Now, that doesn’t explain wrestling. But wrestling brings in desirable ratings and demos. Wrestling fans don’t care what channel it is on, but they watch it. NBC Universal obviously wanted to keep it in the family, and decided Syfy would be a good place to put it. And if it helps pay the bills for other programming, I’ll deal with it.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last. And it isn’t just Syfy…every other network has canceled a beloved show before, for mostly the same reasons. Now, sometimes it can be the network’s fault – they could have promoted it poorly, played games in scheduling, aired horrific lead-ins, put it in the “death slot”, etc. And some of them aren’t really malicious, but simply unfortunate.

I probably have a lot more to say on this, but the distractions are rising (Big Bang Theory is a Laugh Out Loud episode!), so that’s it for now.


2 Comments for this entry

  • bakasquared

    While I can’t fault a business for wanting to make money, with SyFy pulling an MTV – its abandoning its very core being. With the demise of Caprica and SGU, there is no more original “hard” science fiction on the network- its candy-coated syfy-ish series, reality TV (isn’t Fy for Fiction?), original B-movies (Sharkoctpus, OMG…), and of course everyone’s favorite – wrestling. Hardcore fans of science fiction have to go elsewhere. I never would have dreamed that in 2011 I’ll be watching more AMC than SyFy… But if SyFy is happy with their ratings – wonderful for them; I like science fiction, so I’m not a part of it.

    • Doc

      The unfortunately thing here is that wrestling came with its own audience of the type advertisers love and NBCUni wanted a place to put it – and Syfy was it. Fact is it is helping pay the bills.

      “Spaceship” shows are expensive. They need to pull in numbers far better than earthbound SF shows like Eureka or WH13. And reality TV is even cheaper – networks learned this with the first writer’s strike.

      The “built-in” audience often isn’t enough any more. Unfortunately, the types of storytelling we often like doesn’t appeal to mainstream audiences as much. Networks have trouble finding a good balance.

      Since you brought up MTV – in reality, NO cable network is the same as how it started. It’s the progression over the last 30 years. A cable network starts out with reruns, old movies, syndicated and/or broadcast short-term reruns. The syndication market dried up as more broadcast networks came about, so most of the “original” programming went away. Advertiser money on the rest was never big, but since you didn’t have to pay for the production it didn’t need to be. But eventually the network wants more, so they start to fund original programming. Eventually, that takes over…and then you have to contend with all the problems that original programming have – and here were are.

      Frankly sometimes I think our best hope is for a “Syfy2”, which goes back to the “vault” and pulls out all the old stuff, and provides some of the original programming the mid-80s SFC had – the quirky stuff, Sci-Fi Buzz, etc. But now, it has to contend with congested cable systems where bandwidth is at a premium and everyone wants their even-more-expensive HD channels…

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