Why Hulu Didn’t Save Caprica


Okay, I gotta admit it: I’m a huge fan of Caprica, and I’m severely disappointed that SyFy canceled the show. But I might just have to blame my own online viewing habits for the Battlestar Galactica prequel not sticking around for a second season, according to SyFy Digital’s GM and senior vice president Craig Engler, who just blogged about show cancellations and the ratings system on the network’s Blastr.com website.

The main purpose of Engler’s post was to clear up some misconceptions:

“When sci-fi TV shows gets canceled (on any network), many fans talk about how the ratings system is broken and doesn’t count sci-fi viewers correctly. After all, sci-fi fans are tech-savvy and don’t watch live TV shows on TV … they DVR them, they buy them on iTunes and they illegally download them from BitTorrent. If the archaic Nielsen system only took these viewers into account, many sci-fi TV shows would have massive ratings and last many more seasons.”

Engler tried to disspell some of these notions by saying that his network actually does track all kinds of usage, including traditional Nielsen ratings, DVR data, cable VOD, online views on sites like Hulu, online pay per view and illegal downloads. However, some of those numbers only mean that much to SyFy, simply because different types of use also bring in different kinds of revenue.

Online ads still don’t bring in nearly as much money as traditional advertising on TV, he wrote:

“If you add up all the money you get selling ads in live and DVR viewing and stack that against all the money you bring in through every other kind of viewing method, you’d probably be lucky to get $1 in online revenue for the same number of views that would bring in $10 on TV. And that’s likely an optimistic number.”

In other words: When it comes to SyFy’s bottom line, you’ll need ten views on Hulu (or on its own site, for that matter) to make up for one person not tuning in via traditional cable TV. And piracy of course doesn’t really bring anything to the bottom line either.

So how can networks like SyFy solve the conundrum of catering to a tech-savvy audience whose media consumption habits bring in less money? First of all, it’s worth noting that Engler actually doesn’t think online viewing is a huge money sink right now, simply because the audience is too small. But this could change with more people cutting the cord and embracing online viewing.

Many commenters still weren’t satisfied with Engler’s explanation, and part of me of course also hopes that there’s a way to bring a show like Caprica back. Well, maybe there is…sometime in the future. Responding to a reader’s suggestion to offer shows a second life through iTunes downloads or other forms of online-only financing, Engler said:

I don’t think the industry is close to that yet, although I think it could get there someday. Even inexpensive Web series can’t survive that way yet. Soon hopefully!

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