The typical lifecycle of a television show goes like this: A pitch, then a script, then production of a pilot — which may or may not get picked up for a full series. Pilots which don’t get picked are then usually buried in the archives, never to be seen by a mass audience. But more and more, this is another thing the Internet is changing.
The seminal sci-fi drama Battlestar Galactica put the SyFy channel on the map well before it became SyFy. So since the original series ended, efforts have been made to build on that pre-established brand, with the most recent effort, Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome, taking the series back to its space-battle roots.
But while SyFy decided not to go forward with a full series of Blood and Chrome, the two-hour pilot is finding its way to Battlestar fans, beginning with YouTube network Machinima‘s exclusive online premiere, part of a three-tier distribution plan that could become a model for future projects.
Machinima began releasing Blood and Chrome in ten minute installments in November, months in advance of its SyFy television premiere, which is scheduled for February 2013. The first episode is currently at about two million views — subsequent episodes have trailed off, but according to Machinima Prime general manager Ian Moffitt, this is just one stage in the show’s online life.
“We found with Halo: Forward Unto Dawn that once all the episodes are up in a playlist, a whole new audience comes to life,” he said. “That’s the beauty of this platform — we can market and remarket to the fanbase constantly.”
Blood and Chrome, while produced on a TV-level budget, is surprisingly low-budget compared to, say, Machinima’s last high-profiile release, the series Halo: Forward Unto Dawn: Blood and Chrome reportedly cost $2 million, whereas according to the L.A. Times, industry insiders put Forward Unto Dawn‘s budget in the $5-10 million range.
Forward Unto Dawn, of course, was financed by Microsoft and served as part of the lead-up to the release of the game Halo 4 (which made $220 million on its first day).
But Blood and Chrome‘s YouTube release also contains a promotional component, specifically for other iterations of the pilot: Episode end cards on YouTube contain heavy mention of the February SyFy premiere, as well as the upcoming, unrated Blu-ray edition. (On YouTube, Blood and Chrome cuts around potential nudity, and profanity is bleeped by clattering tools and lockers slamming shut.)
Even the original Galactica series’s Google Play release gets a plug. “We consider ourselves not just a distributor but a promotional service — from our point of view, we’re helping them promote the other windows,” Moffitt said.
The series will remain on Machinima Prime until April 2013, but Moffitt said that continuing Blood and Chrome beyond the initial pilot is “definitely an option that everyone wants to believe is on the table. It’s fundamentally down to the creative team, as well as their point of view on where does the story go.”
Blood and Chrome isn’t the first content originally produced for television to find new life online: Just one example from 2009 — the short-lived cable series Pilot Season, which was reborn on My Damn Channel. But it does speak to the potential that lies in adapting to, and not resisting, the new media world order.