Move over, Sharktopus: The SyFy network wants to put out better stuff. In announcing several new original series and mini-series, the network is going back to its roots as a destination for science fiction and fantasy, rather than the campy send-ups like Sharknado 7: Shark Harder.
In other words, Syfy is betting on quality. In a world of peak TV, they’re betting that being the same as everyone else isn’t sufficient, that they have to have a distinct brand in order to be sought out.
What a dangerous idea.
Normally, striving for excellence is a good thing. For SyFy, though, their corner of the cultural landscape has plenty of squatters. The sci-fi/fantasy audience has plenty of content to choose from elsewhere, from HBO’s Game of Thrones to AMC’s The Walking Dead. The two biggest comic book universes, DC and Marvel, both have superhero/sci-fi themed shows all over network programming (and Marvel has some on Netflix, too).
And these are well-produced shows, too. The days of Captain Kirk fighting the beast with a zipper up its back on the planet of styrofoam rocks are long gone.
That puts SyFy’s “making good television” strategy especially difficult. Suddenly, they have to compete with all those other outlets – not only for eyeballs, but also for talent. Sci-fi media – from comic books to pulp fiction paperbacks – once provided limited avenues for those seeking to reach a niche audience. That genre is now mainstream, and the exclusivity is gone now. A good sci-fi producer or writer can now find a job on a weekly network television or premium cable series. Why settle for a basic cable channel which targets a very narrow audience?
Making good, quality content is going to cost SyFy much more to produce than the cheesy effects and purposeful camp of Sharknado-style movies. It will likely result in better television. But will SyFy be able to find an audience – and make money – following what so many other outlets are already doing?