SyFy Kills Stargate Universe (SGU) And Reputation

Save Stargate Universe

[Updated 13/06/2011] I don’t envy the work of a TV Network President. I envy the salary, sure – but trying to ensure that television continues to make money at the cost of quality, principles and a core fanbase can’t be easy. That’s probably not the way the job should work, but just try telling that to Dave Howe, President of NBC Universal’s ‘SyFy’ television network. Hordes of fans are turning their backs on the cable channel, and it’s primarily down to the decision to cancel fans’ favourite: Stargate Universe.

The decision to cancel the show affectionately known as ‘SGU’ (or, to be more specific, ‘not renew it’) was made back in December 2010 at a time when the show’s ratings were already dwindling. Again, not being involved in the television industry, it’s probably not for me to observe that messing about with timeslots and airdates (read as: total inconsistency) is going to mess up viewing figures. What I can tell you is that by alienating your fans, Dave, you’ll lose out in the long run. And when you alienate fans (and lose out in the long run), be prepared for the backlash that comes with it.

For reasons that go beyond the scope of this article, there is a correlation that exists between people who spend a lot of time on their computers/the internet, and people who are fans of either comics or science fiction (or both). Yeah, I’m one of them. I hate the stereotype, but I don’t deny it. Either way, it’s the people who spend more of their time on the internet that are most likely to use it to voice their opinions and speak out against perceived injustice. And this particular instance of SyFy vs Sci-Fi Fans is the perfect example of all the things that can go wrong for a company on the internet, going wrong.

Part of my job is to identify different forms of negative content on the internet, and observe and measure the effects and implications it can have on and for the company it’s directed at. There’s been a huge surge of late in the utilization of social network sites (such as Facebook and Twitter) to not only voice discontent but also organize groups at a level of efficiency previously impossible. You can reach out to people all over the world with a few keystrokes and mouse clicks to advertise your cause, and gain rapid awareness and amass followers in an extremely short space of time.

This is exactly what’s happened with SGU. One guy, not content to sit back and take the disregard being afforded to him and other Stargate Universe fans over the globe, set up a Facebook group called “Save Stargate Universe”. Simple and straight to the point. I’d normally suggest searching for the group rather than me spoon-feeding people everything, but I’m going to break a personal habit and link you directly to them: http://www.facebook.com/SaveSGU by way of using them an example. Led by social networking socialite Dean Bairaktaris, this group has amassed over 54,000 members before and since the ending of the show. Using this Facebook group as a platform for protest, several individuals have strategized and formalized plans to convey their feelings to the SyFy network.

That’s just one group. There’s an entire website dedicated to campaigning against SyFy’s decision to cancel Stargate Universe, with ‘live chat’ coming in from thousands of fans via a Twitter feed and in the 60 seconds or so I was watching, over 20 posts came up complaining about SyFy and the network’s apparent ‘loss of identity’. The network is being lambasted on forums all over the internet, both on dedicated science-fiction based forums and general community-based forums covering a whole range of usually unrelated topics. There have been picture-campaigns in which people have taken their time to create (although admittedly not always from scratch) images promoting the “Save SGU” sentiment (as well as other comments made at the expense of certain networks and network presidents too explicit for me to share here). Multiple petitions have been signed (and repeated), mailing campaigns have seen people send letters and postcards in to SyFy telling of their discontent and there doesn’t appear to be any signs of letting up. I’ve even seen a YouTube video of a guy cancelling his cable contract and returning his equipment to his local cable company in outrage. Oh, and you can also (allegedly) do your part by buying episodes of SGU on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Since the cancellation of the show and the airing of the final episode, MGM have further angered fans by stubbornly releasing the 2nd season on DVD (but not Blu-Ray) billing it as ‘The Final Season’. Still this hasn’t deterred fans nor has it hindered their progress as renewed campaigns are starting up all the time, with a greater emphasis on the international audience being considered (enter ‘Save Stargate Universe UK‘).

Whilst serving as a blatantly obvious example of the dangers of turning your back on your core market in favour of advertising revenue, it also highlights all the potential types of negative media a company can expect from the internet should they give people cause. Dave Howe has incurred the wrath of hundreds of thousands angry viewers who are annoyed with the identity crisis his network is suffering. As the last genuinely decent Science Fiction show coming out of America at the moment (we still have Dr. Who in the UK, which is clearly much lower budget, but adored by millions [which in itself is a bigger thing for us, given comparative populations of UK vs US]), Stargate Universe marks the end of what was a great era of television.

The clearest lesson to be learnt here is “don’t do anything so stupid as to offend your core market”. Still, you can’t please everybody, and you certainly can’t expect them not to “Rush” to the internet with lists of reasons why you’re the devil incarnate. There are ways of handling negative media, but that’s another topic for another time.

Dialing out,

Ken

  • WOW.
    As you may know, MGM did a little change, we do not know if this is a good thing or a bad thing at the moment.
    And you can count of the group and others (including mine: Save SciFi, not SyFy) to demand change to support the meaning and word of what the channel is about.

    It is clear moving the PRIME time (Friday) to shows NOT GERMANE to the subject was a direct slap in the face of the fans.  And it did not start nor end there.  It was just their declaration of war on geeks of all kinds.

  • Kieran

    Fantastic article! Perfectly sums up the mistake that Syfy has made.They really have alienated a lot of people by cancelling the show. SO many series’ have been cancelled in the past and for many people this is the last straw as SGU was a good series with huge potential to deliver more!
    I think people are fed up with the way these projects are handled. People deserve better.

    I hope that the scale of the reaction will be enough to make the guys at the top rethink the decision.

  • Scifymad

    I read so many great Sci Fi books, yet none of the great books make it to the screen,why is that?  It’s not like they can’t generate graphics cheaply now.  SGU was cool and right now there is nothing out there to fill the gap.   

  • Susan

    Thanks for a great observation!

    I’m one of the very disappointed fans btw, but I do understand the decision, if one has to work within the current media structure. I think one of the most important things you say here is:

    “there is a correlation that exists between people who spend a lot of
    time on their computers/the internet, and people who are fans of either
    comics or science fiction (or both)”

    This is so true, and it brings up the question – I think, to make series like SGU successful in the future, one has to work through internet, and release the series on a global scale. Otherwise, the fans outside of the US will find ways to watch the series illegally, and I presume that one looses a LOT of money on that. On the other hand, I think one could make a LOT of money through making such series available to the international market on a high-quality platform with reasonable prices. This is probably the future of television anyhow – it almost has to be. People just do not accept to wait half a year to get to watch a series that is already running in the States, and the ways to get a hold of a series illegally are many…

    Hence, I think that as well fans as producers would profit on a new, global system – internet based – especially for Sci Fi series. I still keep my hopes up for SGU, or at least some kind of Stargate continuation. It would be so sad if this wonderful, imaginative, highly moral series would not go on…

  • Mike

    Here’s the problem: NBC, more than ANY network, lives and dies by the Law of Nielsen, first last and always. Nielsen is, contrary to what many believe, a marketing company, not a “ratings” company. In fact they are the largest marketing firm in the world, I believe, and the ratings portion of their empire is a very tiny part of it….but it has a profound impact on all their business. Nielsen has a vested interest in the success of many products worldwide, and often steers certain companies toward advertising decisions. One has to understand how the Nielsen rating system works: Nielsen decides what the target demographic is for any given show, then advises networks what brands will have the most success advertising on those programs. Nielsen then computes who watches the shows using meters and surveys….but with a twist: if a surveyed viewer watches the show but doesnt meet Nielsen’s selected demographic profile for that show…they are not counted in the rating, in many cases. Example: Aunt Betty loves SGU, but she’s a 67 year old widow, and therefore not one of the viewers targeted. Her voice doesnt count. Also, Nielsen mostly counts people who watch the commercials, NOT the television program itself! So if you are metered or surveyed as using a recording device to watch a program, your selection isnt weighed the same as someone who watches the program live and sits through the commercials. And NBC, in their infinite wisdom, makes their decisions on what shows live or die based mostly on these ratings. Starting to understand now why NBC seems so out of touch?

  • MHAWKE76

    I am new to the sci to genre but I feel as adimit as others that syfy is taking a wrong turn. I was do tired of fake reality programs that I started watching tv outside that element. I found Lost, Battlestar Galactica, life on mars, heroes and eureka. These show changed my jock perspective of the world and my life. I couldn’t start to explain the feeling, nay the enlightenment I have found. But just as I discovered the light David Howe and others took it away. From Foxs cancellation of Terra nova and Alcatraz to now hearing the cancelling of blood and chrome. What is going on in the world of tv? Will I ever wake up from the nightmare of reality tv? I really hope that tv executives have read some of the articles we have written over the last couple weeks bc I know a lot of people agree that this evolution is a tragedy to the history of tv. As lady Gaga said to the Potus “DO YOU HEAR US!!! DO YOU HEAR US NOW!!

  • Aaron

    personally syfy channel is now a complete joke how on earth can they cancel stargate it was awsome atlantis was my favorite wen they cancelled that i was shocked and the ending was pathetic such a shame so from now on syfy im boycotting everything on there now is trash anyway compared to stargate who ever runs syfy and makes the decisions to stop shows should retire and be admitted to a mental institution they are just plain crazy it still appealed to many people instead they decide to put wrestling on really a bunch of steroid addicted fairys what on earth does that have to do with sci fi nothing its a joke