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In response to a few antagonistic tweets implying that the Syfy Channel intentionally withholds its shows from viewers outside of the US, Syfy’s resident tweetmaster Craig Engler had quite a bit to say. Unfortunately, twitter does have some limitations, one of which is long form responses. So, for your reading pleasure, I’ve compiled @Syfy’s response here in paragraph form:
Syfy is not the rights holder to the shows we air, we’re basically the “U.S. rights renter”. The underlying rights holder controls the rest.
Here’s a quick 101 on TV economics that might help:
First, TV shows are VERY expensive. We all know that. Even an inexpensive show costs…hundreds of thousands. Some cost SEVERAL million dollars PER EPISODE. To offsets those costs, the rights holder sell them to different networks in different territories. For instance, CRAIG CO. makes CRAIG’s SHOW. It costs $2 million per episode. CRAIG CO. might sell the US rights to CRAIG’s SHOW to Syfy for $500k. Now they need another $1.5 million. So they sell it to Sci Fi UK for $150k, etc. Sci Fi UK pay for the UK rights so they don’t want Syfy in the US to stream CRAIG’S SHOW in their territory. They want to show it.
Now, extend that out to all the other territories out there, and you understand why the rights issues are so prominent. It’s a business model that’s a legacy from a time when international distribution wasn’t even possible. Now that it is, a new business model needs to be developed to accommodate the ease of distribution online, which will probably take a while. The problem is, there is no way for CRAIG CO to both distribute CRAIG’s SHOW internationally via the Web & recoup its costs…not yet anyway.
iTunes sales and online ads add only a (small) fraction of $$$ to the pot, not enough to make Web distribution viable in and of itself.
More people are watching more TV than ever before. HOORAY! Just like any industry undergoing changes, we’ll sort it out eventually. I missed a tweet that said, the Internet can actually HELP (i.e. be additive) to regular TV viewing, piracy aside. So that’s a GOOD thing. Which is why I like to push for putting as much of our content online as possible, within reason. I.e. #Caprica is on syfy.com right now :)
Based on the ongoing barrage of questions for SyFy’s Craig Engler on Twitter, I get the sense that hardcore science fiction lovers are up in arms over the cable channel’s decision to change their name to the made-up word “syfy.” But what are we really so angry about?
Much of this seems to stem from TV historian and original Scifi channel developer Tim Brooks’ comment that, “The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular.” At the time, uber-geek Wil Wheaton responded “SyFy’s Tim Brooks insulted the hell out of geeks everywhere. So on behalf of all us geeks, I say SyFy can go Fyck Itsylf.”
But not so fast. What Brooks said about the “name” Sci Fi isn’t exactly untrue in the sense that if you throw that word around, those geeky adolescent boys in their basements are exactly what comes to mind for the general public.
Now, I’m not sure if anyone’s ever done a serious anthropological study of science fiction demographics, but one way to get a gauge on what we look like is to go to a convention. Any convention. Let me tell you, there aren’t a lot of women there. But there are some.
So is the new Syfy channel trying to recreate itself in order to be more inclusive of these other demographics, “the general public and the female audience”? Absolutely. It’s a cable channel, not a fan club. It operates with the sole purpose of creating for-profit entertainment, and profitability necessitates attracting a wider audience. The good news is, the execs at Syfy seem to have noticed that as the quality of their programming increases, so too does the type of audience the channel attracts.
Growing up, I was the only one in my family that enjoyed watching science fiction. My two sisters somehow managed to deal with adolescence much better than I, and didn’t spend all their time imagining a future where high school didn’t exist, only Starfleet Academy. Fast forward to sometime in 2005, when the reboot of Battlestar Galactica made its viral trip around the pop culture circuit. Suddenly both my sisters were hopelessly addicted. Here was a show that we could talk about together. The quality of writing, the incredible suspense of not knowing how the fleet would survive, all of these things made the show incredibly satisfying for all three of us. Did it even matter that the show was science fiction? For me, yes. That’s why I watched it in the first place. But for my sisters, no. They just heard it was an amazing show. And this is a very good thing for people like me.
I get the sense that the strange anger over the Syfy name change has more to do with injured geek pride and the fact that geek subculture is currently enjoying mainstream status. All those “other” people who don’t know what it means to grow up alone in the basement watching Star Trek have no idea how to properly appreciate science fiction, right?
Of course they don’t. That’s why we don’t need to really worry about anyone taking away our geek/nerd status any day soon. At least not without a time machine and some magical popularity dust. With our geek statuses firmly intact, we should sit back and enjoy the fact that the people out there want to invest money and energy and time into creating quality science fiction for not just us, but everyone. It’s mob rule out there, and right now the mob is favoring us. Relish the moment. Because seriously, if I have to turn on the television and see one more freaking “new” crime show, so help me god…