By Blake Linton
Stargate Universe’s unreported Internet viewership placed it among the world’s top TV series. Syfy and MGM failed to recognize and monetize SGU’s vast filesharing and streaming audience, but it’s not too late to redeem their mistake.
When ChevronOne interviewed Mark Savela, Visual Effects Supervisor for Stargate Universe (SGU), he told them that “the Torrents for Stargate Universe were pretty insane. Web traffic would go crazy after one of our episodes aired. Much more than any of the big network shows. It’s interesting because you know the viewers are out there.” Here’s the full interview:
Likewise, reader Aaron Waldo reports to me, “Shortly after hearing that SGU was being cancelled due to low ratings, and hearing the argument that file-sharing was killing it, I decided to check it out…. Each [Torrent site] I visited that had eps. of SGU had a crazy amount seeders and leechers. I mean seriously crazy! Most often when you go to one of these sites individually, a popular movie or series that’s otherwise not available for purchase has something like 200-500 seeders…. Every ep of SGU I found had something in the neighborhood of 75,000-100,000 seeders per site. That’s freakin insane!! I was blown away. Cause I’m talking about season 2 eps that weren’t available for purchase yet on disk, and season 1 eps that had already been available for almost a year already on dvd and blu-ray.” Thanks, Aaron!
After some intensive searching, I found support for these anecdotal claims. In November 2010, the Internet Commerce Security Laboratory published “How much material on BitTorrent Networks is infringing content? A validation study.” Here it is:
Scroll down to Appendix B, a “top 100″ list of torrents measured during SGU’s active season–specifically May 2010. There, in 9th and 11th place, are SGU season 1 episodes 17 and 18. The only higher-ranked series is Lost. Everything else above 9th place is a theatrical movie.
Wikipedia has statistics that make the significance of SGU’s accomplishment clear:
In brief, BitTorrent accounts for 27% to 55% of all Internet traffic, has 100 million users, consumes a greater share of network bandwidth than Netflix and Hulu combined, and at any given time boasts more active users than YouTube and Facebook together.
And that’s a minority of filesharers. BitTorrent is dwarfed by file-hosting/cyberlocker services like Mediafire, 4shared, and Megaupload, as reported here:
There’s no reason to expect cyberlocker filesharers to have different tastes than their BitTorrent brethren. They’re technophiles who choose to utilize superior technology that lets them watch their shows commercial-free, wherever and whenever they want, without DRM limitations. Similarly, SGU is popular among streaming Internet viewers, as reported here:
In brief, Netflix viewers–mostly streamers–have given the Stargate franchise over 7 million reviews averaging 4 out of 5 stars, and SGU the highest rating of the entire franchise. (The video’s figure of 6 million is out of date.)
Keeping score? The total Internet audience we’re discussing is well over 200 million viewers, likely 300 million or more, heavily focused on the young adult age range advertisers crave. Check the demographics for the top (as of this writing) Alexa-ranked cyberlocker Mediafire here:
And SGU was one of their favorite shows!
Unfortunately, SGU, being epic space science fiction, appealed to few of the non-technophiles who prefer traditional television. To say that its Nielsen ratings were therefore deceptively low would be an understatement. Millions of SGU’s viewers–the vast majority–went uncounted.
Thus, either failing to recognize or value SGU’s large Internet following, Syfy and MGM canceled the series after its second year.
The enormous backlash against this decision took them both by surprise. Heretofore hidden viewers vocally expressed their outrage on social media sites, with the result that trend-tracking service Trendrr suddenly found Stargate Universe to be the most talked-about cable television series. Even the august business magazine Forbes took notice:
In an attempt at damage control, Syfy issued an “open letter” to its angry audience, citing low ratings as the reason for cancellation:
But although SGU’s Internet viewership statistics were not widely known, the show’s quality was so obvious that fans sensed something was horribly askew, and cried foul. SGU producer Joseph Mallozzi joined them in issuing angry rebuttals…
…and Hitler himself entered the fray:
“Likes” on the “Save Stargate Universe” page on Facebook skyrocketed, resulting in two more Forbes articles:
MGM and Syfy’s Facebook pages found themselves under siege, every post they made flooded with comments protesting SGU’s cancellation. They remain so to this day. Furthermore, on 24 September 2011, Syfy conducted a “Syfy All-Time Favorite Shows” poll on Facebook:
The Stargate franchise dominated the poll, bringing in about a third of the votes, the individual series Stagate SG-1, Stargate Universe, and Stargate Atlantis coming in second, third, and seventh place respectively–and Eureka’s results were grossly inflated by the furor over its cancellation just a few weeks earlier. Regardless, by their own measure, Syfy had canceled its viewers’ first and second most popular current shows in the year preceding the poll.
Meanwhile, due to disappointing disc sales for SGU, MGM declined to wrap up the series’ unfinished storyline with a movie, and also failed to release the second season on Blu-Ray. (Of course the disc sales are disappointing! Filesharers and streamers don’t need discs.) In what seem to be their own efforts to quash protests, MGM labeled the second season DVDs “The Complete Final Season” (emphasis mine) and auctioned off SGU’s sets and props. Nonetheless, fans continue to fight for the show.
What now? Is there a way to save SGU despite its low Nielsen ratings, loss of the sets, and departure of the actors?
Absolutely! All television is transitioning to the Internet, as described by Forbes’ indefatigable Michael Humphrey in the article “TV Cord-Cutters: Who You Are And Why You Scare Bigwigs”:
Indeed, renowned financial website The Street has specifically urged Netflix to revive Stargate Universe:
Meanwhile, Netflix has announced its plans to revive the sitcom Arrested Development years after its cancellation:
Certainly, if a sitcom can be rescued this way, the infinitely geekier SGU is a prime candidate! Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, YouTube, or other Internet TV services could pick up the series. Syfy and/or MGM could stream SGU themselves, as well as seed torrents and upload episodes to cyberlockers, monetizing them with sponsorships, banner ads, product placement, and merchandising. Yes, it’ll be expensive and challenging at first, but the prize for success is leadership in the Internet TV empire.
And it turns out that the Destiny sets aren’t irretrievably lost. Website io9 reports that actor David Hewlett, who played scientist Rodney McKay in the Stargate shows, “now owns most of the dismantled sets of SGU”:
Though he has his own plans for them, such a staunch supporter of the Stargate franchise would no doubt be eminently reasonable about lending, renting, or selling the sets back to continue Stargate Universe.
In any case, the brilliantly open ending to SGU season 2 makes possible myriad storylines to continue the series with or without the Destiny sets or the same actors. In deference to Joseph Mallozzi, I will not give examples here, since it is his policy not to read plot ideas written by fans. (Joseph, if you need ideas, contact me!) Suffice it to say that Doctor Who has continued for decades with no sets or actors from its early days, and is better now than ever. Such is the power of creative screenwriting.
Thank you for reading. Fans, keep fighting! Executives, think outside the box…because SGU’s fans watch the show on other boxes.
(original article @ https://www.facebook.com/notes/blake-linton/how-syfy-canceled-one-of-the-worlds-most-popular-tv-series/141615709261403) with written permission from the author - Blake Linton