We’ve been following the development of the prequel series, Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome for going on two years, now, and we haven’t had much news to report for some time as SyFy has been very quiet about their plans for it. Although the pilot finished filming in February of 2011, post-production wrapped up in September 2011 and there really hasn’t been anything released aside from rumors that SyFy was considering possibly releasing it as a web series. There was no confirmation on this and in fact, we received conflicting reports from sources that SyFy was internally going back and forth on their plans for the epic series. Well, SyFy has officially commented on it and it looks as if they have indeed decided to go forward with B & C as a web series, airing the 90-minute pilot at a future date on television.
We’ll comment on these developments in a moment, but first we wanted to give our readers a chance to check out the incredible teaser trailer that was shown recently at Wondercon and has been yanked every time it’s been posted on YouTube, since, and in fact, no matter were we’ve tried to post it (YouTube, DailyMotion, Facebook, Photobucket) it’s gotten immediately yanked. So, we decided to get creative and do a little editing so that it didn’t raise any red flags. In the beginning and at the end of the video we included a slide show of concept art from B & C and this apparently has allowed us to fly under the radar… at least for now. So, enjoy until someone gets wise to the fact that we put the trailer up.
EDIT: 08/03/2012 Our video was blocked but we were able to find someone’s who’s wasn’t because he changed the audio completely. Don’t know how long this will stay up either but his has been under the radar for a while.
Now, as we noted, SyFy has announced that they intend to go forward with this project as a digital series instead of a traditional network series and believe it or not, we’re actually O.K. with that.
From a statement issued by SyFy’s president of original programming, Mark Stern:
“Though the vision for Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome has evolved over the course of the past year, our enthusiasm for this ambitious project has not waned. We are actively pursuing it as was originally intended: a groundbreaking digital series that will launch to audiences beyond the scope of a television screen. The 90-minute pilot movie will air on Syfy in its entirety at a future date.”
Now of course, the fanboys are all up in arms about the fact that it’s going to be a digital series as opposed to a network television series but we’re going to set the record straight for you as to why this is a good thing as it stands right now.
One of the biggest problems we’ve noticed over the past couple of years with many of the respected sources for television news and commentary is the absolute inability of these outlets to see beyond the standard Nielsen-centric model of the television industry. As we’ve made the point time and time again, it’s not just about network programming and 18 – 49 demographics.
From TV By The Numbers:
“Despite the “limited scope” of the television screen, TV is still where the big advertising dollars are and I can’t really see how the economics will work out, unless someone like Netflix steps in, so this sounds like the sort of inevitable “being shopped to other networks” talk when TV shows are canceled. As a BSG fan, I hope I’m wrong…at least until I’ve seen the pilot!”
“Last we heard, this pilot was going to be demoted to a webseries, instead of being aired as a TV movie. But this trailer is too amazing to be relegated to the internet — put this pilot on TV now, Syfy!”
Once again, what we have here is a typical moment where we have to repeatedly punch ourselves in the face. Now, for the record, we can’t stand io9 because their articles are written from the perspective of a twelve year-old kid in a Batman costume and have ZERO insight into the reality of the film/television industry. io9 is simply a reposter and commenter and most of those comments are similar to the fanboy comments above. TV By The Numbers, on the other hand, is a source that we have greatly respected over the years and a source where we regularly go to for information. Generally speaking, they understand how the industry works as far as analysis of Nielsen numbers are concerned and have had a history of being right more often than not. Lately, though, and in particular over the last two years, TVBTN has been showing their age and unwillingness to look outside the box as far as the direction of the television industry is going and they are making a lot of bold statements about the fate of television shows based solely on the old media model.
Recently, we called them out in the comments section of their article about the Deadline piece (that was also confirmed by THR) that reported that Netflix was in preliminary talks with 20th Century Television about the possibility of bringing the recently canceled FOX series, Terra Nova to Netflix streaming service for a second season. TVBTN not only dismissed the report as foolishness and wishful-thinking, but they openly mocked the piece and Deadline, who, for the record is an elite source of entertainment information has been correct far more often than TVBTN has been.
As we noted then, the Deadline piece was very careful to note that these were only preliminary talks and that it was far too early for fans to get their hopes up, however they noted that considering Terra Nova‘s bubble-show status, it’s huge Live+7 DVR gains and the fact that picking it up would be perfectly in line with Netflix business model expansion, it was certainly possible that it could happen. Besides the fact that their mocking of Deadline was childish, it represented a cognitive dissonance about the evolving landscape of the television industry that the old-guard simply either doesn’t want to accept or doesn’t understand. We’re not going to post the entire contents of our response to them (which, by the way, went unanswered whereas they responded to every other critcism of their piece and defended themselves) but if you want to understand more of what TVBTN doesn’t, read our piece, here, on the Deadline and THR Netflix/Terra Nova story.
How does this all relate to the future of B & C? Well, to put it simply, the television landscape is not exclusively dependent on Nielsen ratings and television advertising any more. The fact is that the networks and studios are looking for more and more avenues to expand their brands and profit from their programming beyond the traditional outlets of live television and home video sales. It’s taken them a while, but the industry has come to the realization that Video on Demand Services, the Internet and digital platforms offer as much if not more than traditional live viewings and the advertising associated with it. So, here are a few points to consider as to why Syfy has announced this direction for the series and the BSG franchise and why it is actually a positive and what viewers can possibly expect.
1.) Space-Based SciFi is Dead on Television. This is the elephant in the room that no one wants to believe no matter how many times we explain it and no matter how many times the evidence to this presents itself. The fact is, though, that on network television it’s been dead since the late 1990’s and on cable it’s been dead for about five years. The Star Trek television franchise officially died in 1998 despite the fact that it continued with Enterprise until 2005. Farscape struggled to find an audience and was unceremoniously ended after four seasons with a cliffhanger that had to be resolved with a miniseries… and don’t even get us started with Firefly. The simultaneous collapse of the Stargate and Battlestar Galactica franchises around 2007 marked the official beginning of the end of the genre on cable television. SyFy saw it coming which exactly why they changed their name in 2009 from SciFi to the current moniker. SyFy president, David Howe said this back then:
“If you ask people their default perceptions of Sci Fi, they list space, aliens and the future. That didn’t capture the full landscape of fantasy entertainment: the paranormal, the supernatural, action and adventure, superheroes.”
The writing was on the wall for space-based SciFi and they knew it as well as we did because they saw the same numbers that we did. Despite the criticism from the pundits in the blogosphere over the name change (CNet’s “Digital City” blogger and television flat-earther Dan Ackerman called it “…perhaps the most ill-advised branding move since New Coke” which was just stupid on its face because New Coke was a completely different formula and not merely a name change), SyFy has seen record ratings and revenues on their original programming (both scripted and unscripted, and it has nothing to do with one hour of wrestling per week)… that is of course with the exception of the two attempts since the name change at space-based SciFi, which were, Stargate: Universe and the BSG prequel series, Caprica. Both of those shows, which SyFy gambled on and invested an enormous amount of money in development and promotion, were miserable failures not because they weren’t any good, but because general viewing audiences just DO NOT have any interest in the genre any more.
We have no doubt that SyFy still has an interest in the BSG franchise, because, after all, it’s their most successful property of all-time and the fact is that they didn’t spend all that money on that kick-ass pilot two months after the cancellation of Caprica to have it sit on a shelf and not make money, but SyFy and NBC-Universal view it in a much larger context than the dopey fanbase and bloggers do. At this point, they aren’t going to make the same mistakes they made on SGU and Caprica by putting it on television for an audience that simply has very little interest in it and thereby destroying the franchise the same way that Paramount did with Star Trek. SyFy is thinking global distribution with this to maximize profits and that’s the absolute best approach for this series.
2.) The Definition of a “Digital Series.” How simplistic viewers and bloggers are when the phrase “digital series” is uttered as they sit around lamenting six minute mini-episodes for free that are used to promote shows like The Office on NBC. We hate to burst the bubble of the Negative Nancys but when SyFy refers to this as a “digital series,” that’s not what they have in mind and simply because they offered webisodes to supplement Battlestar Galactica when it was in first-run, you have to understand that using webisodes to supplement and promote the primary product is not the same thing as having the primary product distributed digitally. This is the typically short-sighted understanding of the television industry in this new global market that permeates the Internet and it really couldn’t be more ignorant of the facts.
The Internet’s impact on television has grown exponentially over the past five years and this is partly the result of a defensive posture by the networks and studios to combat piracy and partly because they realize that if they take advantage of the Internet it broadens their audiences and their customer base (if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em). The old model of television really was less about programming and more about advertising. Unlike feature films where consumers actually purchase the entertainment product directly, television and television programming has traditionally been a means simply to expose viewers to advertising. It’s been an intricate dance of providing programming that enough people watch to make it inticing for advertisers to spend money on advertising. This is why fan campaigns don’t work. Despite quality of programming, if the numbers aren’t there, a show will not survive. io9 and similar fan outlets as well as the fans themselves do not understand that the show itself has not traditionally been the product and can’t seem to get it through their heads that a demographically insignificant amount of fan signatures does nothing to keep a show alive if it doesn’t have an appeal to a larger consumer audience that will actually see the advertising.
But this is changing. Studios and networks, though still tied to traditional methods of revenue, are now beginning to look at their shows themselves as the product. International distribution deals as well as non-exclusive distribution contracts with companies such as Apple, Amazon, Netlfix and Hulu are making advertising less of a concern than they have been traditionally. This is exactly why at least the notion of shows such as Terra Nova and The River going to Netflix, a service that depends on subscribers, not advertisers, makes so much sense in the new economy (however, advertising may still be part of the picture for B & C even, digitally).
Again, just consider what we’re talking about, here. We’re talking about BSG and we’re talking about SyFy, not just some random series on a generic network. This is an incredibly valuable and profitable property for SyFy and SyFy has made it very clear that they are actively pursuing innovative ways to deliver entertainment that is not only profitable, but takes advantage of existing and developing popular technology. Although the rest of the experts in the blogosphere may have not been giving this much attention, SyFy’s upcoming new series/MMO crossover, Defiance is the prime example of the network’s dedication to using innovative digital methods to change the landscape of television and delivering original content to consumers. The Defiance project alone should be enough of an indication to fans and critics alike that SyFy has something far bigger planned for B & C than a handful of crappy 10-minute webisodes.
Even though it’s nice see that TVBTN is begrudgingly at least sort-of understanding that Netflix is a viable option for original programming and and keeping alive shows that have been canceled by networks, this news is not a harbinger of SyFy shopping the series to Netflix (or another television network, for that matter), in fact don’t expect this series to be on Netflix for years. The concern that these Internet outlets have is that they think that the 90-minute pilot movie will be cut down into 10-minute webisodes and once all of the episodes have been released, that will be the end of B & C. Though it’s possible that it could be cut down into individual webisodes, we don’t think this is very likely, and we certainly don’t think that once the pilot movie is shown its entirety, it will be the end of the project.
First, unlike the BSG webisodes that supplemented the television series and were available for free, the pilot film wasn’t designed to be a story spliced up into a web anthology and furthermore the webisodes were incredibly inexpensive to produce and not produced as direct revenue generators. The B & C pilot movie was produced with the intention of telling a stand-alone story in the form of a film while leaving setting it up as a launching point for a series. That format simply won’t work with a 10-minute webisode experience with the end of each ten minutes being a cliffhanger for the next webisode. That’s simply not how the pilot was produced or written. SyFy knows this which is exactly why they are airing the pilot movie in its entirety on the network.
We suspect that B & C will most likely wind up on Hulu after the pilot airs on SyFy and available ad-free/limited ad-supported for Hulu Plus subscribers (and video game consoles, TV’s and other devices that have the SyFy App) simply because of the fact that NBC-Universal has a stake in that company. We think they will probably use the broadcast of the pilot movie to promote subscriptions to Hulu Plus which will be the exclusive content provider for B & C. We don’t currently subscribe to Hulu Plus because we have no need for it and we suspect a lot of consumers feel the same way. Our cable package includes an HD DVR, every channel that Cox Communications offers as well as all of the premiums. If we want to watch a show that we have missed or isn’t on the DVR, we go to Cox’s VOD service. If we want to see older shows, we simply go to Netflix. That being said, if Hulu Plus carried B & C we’d subscribe tomorrow and there is no question in our mind that if SyFy does bring full series treatment of B & C to Hulu Plus, they would immediately gain one to two million new subscribers.
And this would not be Hulu’s first venture into high-profile web content. Last year we reported on and reviewed the groundbreaking web series, The Confession, starring Kiefer Sutherland and John Hurt. The web series, consisting of 11 six to eight-minute episodes, was an incredible success for Hulu and its producers that was deficit-funded and began producing a profit by the second episode. The company that produced it, Digital Broadcasting Group, noted that each episode had a 95% viewership rate (in other words, viewers watched each episode, including ads right up to the credits) and that the only complaint was how short each episode was, which was exactly why didn’t give it a perfect score when we reviewed it.
What The Confession proved is that original digital content can be profitable provided that it has strong production values and a strong cast. Add these features to the popular nature of the BSG franchise and you’re looking at the future of entertainment and B & C seems ideally suited for it as it’s also destination viewing in that it targets specifically the audience that wants to watch this show without trying to profit from it by airing it to an audience that has little interest in it (the old throw enough sh*t at the wall and see what sticks method that’s been used for 70-years).
3.) Smoke and Mirrors? Possibly. There is another possibility that makes as much sense as any other and that is that though SyFy continues to plan to move forward with this as a digital series, depending on which way the wind blows, the series itself may wind up being aired on the network after all.
The truth is that no matter what SyFy says right now, nothing will really become clear until after they announce their 2012 – 2013 schedule. Unlike the major networks, who announce their schedules at the upfront advertising events in May, SyFy has a history of announcing theirs in April. In April, if an airdate for B & C is announced for the summer, that will be very important because it kind of means all bets are off as far as what SyFy is actually going to do.
If they air it in the summer, it could very well wind up being given full-series network treatment depending on how well it does in the ratings. What they have in the can right now is not just a pilot film but they may be consider it to be a backdoor pilot if it can garner high enough ratings to support a network series. What that means is that it was written produced as a stand-alone film with the opportunity to expand on the story if there is enough interest in it for a series. This is a common practice within the television industry and we’ve discussed this concept before in regards to B & C. It’s called hedging your bets and considering the hype and anticipation they’ve already built around this recently with the Wondercon release of the teaser trailer and almost Gestapo-like patroling of the Internet to curb its avaialbility, it almost seems like this is a viral campaign to spike interest in it and create hysteria.
Right now, as we write this, there are hundreds of fan campaigns actively harassing SyFy to bring this series to the network and we have a funny feeling that this is exactly what SyFy wants. Just like the name change controversy, SyFy may be intentionally trying to piss everyone off by making what appear to be very definitive statements about their programming in an effort to spike brand awareness. Remember, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
Now, we could be dead wrong with this theory and we’ll only have an indication of whether or not this is the case when SyFy releases their schedule, but again, this section is dedicated to idle speculation, only, not hard facts. The key is a summer release date. If it’s announced for an early 2013 release and not announced for Summer 2012 or at the latest Fall 2012, then we think it’s safe to say that this isn’t a viral campaign and SyFy will definitely be moving forward with their digital plans.
But again, that’s not a bad thing and fans should embrace SyFy’s leap forward in digital distribution. It will have a dramatic effect on the rest of the industry if B & C finds success in this format and will usher in a new era of innovation and creativity in television. It will prove once and for all that the old business model is irrelevant and that good shows that couldn’t survive through traditional broadcast mediums can indeed find life digitally and furthermore it will give programming that may have never seen the light of day a chance to find an audience.