How SyFy Can Turn Its ‘Sharknado’ In A Teapot To Its Advantage

Well, all those tweets and posts riffing off SyFy’s much-buzzed about original creature feature Sharknado? Looks like all the fun folks were having writing and talking about the movie didn’t actually translate into ratings:

So who watches Syfy’s movies? Older dudes, mostly. According to TV research firm Horizon Media, viewers of Syfy original movies have an average age of 52. But Sharknado may have broken the mold; the movie blew up on Twitter last night, giving the impression that everyone with a TV was watching it. “Omg omg OMG ‪#sharknado,” Mia Farrow tweeted last night, while Washington Post political reporter Chris Cillizza joked that he was writing an article about how Sharknado would affect the 2016 elections. But were all these people actually watching? According to the Los Angeles Times, Sharknado was watched by only 1 million people, which makes it a bust, even by Syfy standards. Most Syfy originals have an average viewership of 1.5 million people, with some getting twice that.

At Vulture, my friend Joe Adalian argues that those numbers aren’t actually terrible news for SyFy. “It paid next to nothing for the rights to the movie, and for that low, low price, it’ll get at least 24 hours of free media coverage, in which everyone will be talking about how everyone is talking about Sharknado,” he writes. “It will probably get a decent rating next Thursday, when it plans to repeat the movie (maybe showing tweets about it on screen?). And, if it’s smart, it will quickly turnaround a Sharknado sequel which, thanks to all the hype for the original, might actually do really big Nielsen numbers.”

The interesting question is whether SyFy can make like ABC and turn Twitter buzz for Sharknado into a reason in and of itself to turn into the show, the same way the conversation about Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal made it imperative to watch the show in its timeslot. Sharknado, and its associated creature features, don’t have the advantage Scandal does of characters, relationships, and cliffhangers that carry over from one installment to the next, which help viewers create emotional investments in the program. But if SyFy could use a buzzily ludicrous premise to draw viewers into an actual scripted series that follows in the tradition of more substantive programming like the one prestige hit the network’s really had, its remake of Battlestar Galactica, then it might be able to make the leap, and slough off the reputation for schlock that its creature movies and some of its reality programming have given it.