On March 5th, FOX announced that they would not be renewing the science fiction epic, Terra Nova for a second season, which honestly, as disappointing as that is, was really a surprise to no one, especially us. As we pointed out multiple times, this series was an incredibly big risk for FOX because epic sci-fi is dead on television, especially network television and to top it off, Terra Nova is reported as being the most expensive show in the history of television to produce at an average of $4 million per episode, whereas the average scripted series costs $2.5 million.
Well, no sooner did FOX announce that the series would not be renewed that 20th Century Television announced it would be shopping the show to other networks. 48 hours later, Deadline and THR confirmed that Netflix has contacted 20th Century and is interested in possibly bringing the series over to their streaming service. Although, the discussions are only preliminary and we want to warn fans not to get their hopes up, this move makes a ton of sense for Netflix and of course, there are several outlets that have openly mocked this possibility because they simply do not understand the changing landscape of the television industry and the impact that evolving technologies have on it.
Despite what people may think, Terra Nova did not have horrible ratings (7.5 million viewers/2.6 million viewers 18 – 49). As Kevin Reilly, head of programming for FOX, noted before a decision was reached, even if they weren’t going to renew it, the show was successful and made money and that he had no regrets. The issue is apparently that it didn’t make as much money as they wanted it to considering the cost to produce it and air it in the coveted Monday, 8:00 p.m. timeslot.
“I do feel fortunate that we have some high-class problems,” he said at the time. “[Terra Nova] was an exciting bet to take and it’s proven that it was worthwhile.”
Terra Nova was a bubble-show all season long but more importantly is the fact that it was a huge gainer (44%) in DVR Live+7 ratings. What that means is Terra Nova increased its viewership by 44% within seven days by people who watched it within seven days of each episode’s original broadcast on their DVRs. Now, as far as advertisers are concerned these numbers don’t really mean anything, however, they do indicate that the show had a strong audience and furthermore, it must be noted that Terra Nova maintained 97% of their key demographic audience over the course of the season. These type of numbers bode very well for its potential on Netflix. DVR viewing is, in effect, Video On Demand viewing, is it not? Well, for our money, it would make sense that a bubble-show that has a strong core audience whose numbers were dramatically increased using a VOD service such as DVR time-shifting would be a perfect fit for a national VOD service such as Netflix.
The fact is that Netflix now has more subscribers than Comcast Cable, the largest cable provider in the country and 60% of their library is comprised of television series. In our house alone, we have eight devices, not including our computers, that are capable of streaming Netflix VOD services, and four of them are mobile devices. It should also be noted that picking up Terra Nova and other bubble shows is perfectly in line with Netflix stated goal of expanding their original programming lineup and “looking more and more like cable network.” With the recent success of their original series Lillyhammer and the addition of their forthcoming production House of Cards and forthcoming resurrection of the long-dead Arrested Development, not to mention the fact that Netflix is engaging in active discussions with cable providers to include Netflix streaming as part of their VOD services (as Dish Network has done with Blockbuster), the addition of Terra Nova or any other semi-successful television series with a built-in audience is a no-brainer for them and a cash cow for the studios that produce them.
One of the main reasons that 20th Century is actively shopping Terra Nova is that the show and the leads, Stephen Lang and Jason O’Mara, are very popular in international markets and this cannot be dismissed in this evolving television landscape. Remember, just last year, Blue Bloods was renewed by CBS when it was expected to be canceled due in large part to how well the show did in overseas markets. In this age of instant access, growing global markets and new technologies, studios and networks are looking for more and more ways to capitalize on their products. All one has to do is look at the huge non-exclusive distribution deals Netflix, Amazon, Apple and Hulu have made with the studios and networks to understand how the business model in the industry has changed. Although Nielsen ratings are still important for the networks, they aren’t the only factor to consider any more for whether or not a bubble-show can continue to be produced if there are other ways to make the show profitable that isn’t dependent on advertising viewing.
Now, the big elephant in the room with Terra Nova is the cost of production that we noted earlier but how big of a deal is that, really? We don’t think it’s nearly as big of a deal as the naysayers would have us believe. The $4 million per episode is a bit misleading because factored into that number is the $16 million pricetag for the two-part pilot which was spent primarily on sets and show development. Those are sunk costs, folks, i.e., capital investments that won’t be a factor during the second season because the same sets are still going to be used, so that money won’t be spent again. It’s similar for when a an upstart company buys a building. Well, they don’t have to buy a new building every year so they don’t have to factor that cost in again. Also, if Terra Nova were to go to Netflix, or any other network for that matter, it would likely be cut down from 13 episodes to 10 episodes, thus further reducing production costs.
While we certainly believe that it’s far too early to predict that Terra Nova will wind up on Netflix, we caution our readers to take with a grain of salt any media outlet that outright dismisses the possibility of this becoming a reality. It’s backwards, flat-earth thinking for Terra Nova or any other bubble-show and it completely ignores where the television industry is and where it’s going in the future.