[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.