How TV Ratings Destroyed ‘Stargate Universe’, Not The Syfy Channel

by on May 11, 2011

in Entertainment

'Stargate Universe' - The DestinyI noticed that for about eight hours after the series finale of Stargate Universe aired, Google Trends had the show pop up on their charts a few times.  The show broke the top-10 search criteria a few times and even hit the top-5 a few more times throughout the night.  Seems crazy that enough people can make the show crawl into the top-5 of web searches for Google but not have enough ratings to survive for a third season.  But then again, the series finale of Stargate Universe pulled in just over 1.1 million viewers in the ‘Live + Same Day‘ TV ratings.

To be pragmatically honest about it, as a collective, fans didn’t make a strong enough statement with numbers of viewers to make the show worth it to the Syfy channel.  I don’t mean that in a mean way.  Please, read on to understand what I’m thinking.

'Stargate Universe' The Destiny's final trip

I have been saddened by the gaping hole that Stargate Universe has left in my weekly TV viewing schedule.  I’m frustrated but what can I do about it?  New episodes of the show are gone from the Syfy channel, the Destiny was last seen hurtling through space in that translucent wavering tunnel of shimmering bluish FTL light, continuing on its journey without the fans.

But I have to ask myself how did this happen?  How did this much beloved show meet its demise?  The following is a hard but pragmatic look at how this happened to the fans of Stargate Universe.  I take a step back and have scrutinized the system of TV entertainment itself.  End, Disclaimer.

The Stargate franchise, after 14 years, has come to an end and from what I can see, various factors came into play that precipitated this event.  I’m going to take some educated guesses and look at repercussions these factors had on the show that will be no more, on the Syfy channel.

'Stargate Universe' still from

First, a tiny little back-history:  We all experienced the cancellation of Stargate Atlantis, in conjecture, to make room to produce SGU.  We also know that at that time, Battlestar Galactica‘s dark tone seemed very successful and when it ended, the Syfy channel publicly stated it was looking for a successor to take its place.

Stargate Universe seemed to be created to fill that dark tonality of BSG, in what I presume were the hopes of MGM and Syfy to capture or recapture the BSG fans back to the network.  Yet what they did not anticipate was that Stargate fans, at the core, are not fans of dark, heavy character based story lines.  They liked the banter, fun and action that had been the trademark of many of its episodes.  Plus, it seemed that the core BSG fans were more or less, not interested in Stargate.  (I asked a few folk that loved BSG that didn’t adopt SGU, and that’s what they said…  not fans of the franchise, didn’t care.)

When the new SGU premiered, the franchise fans seemed to hate it.  Heck, I was a bit down-trodden about the set of premiere episodes.  After the premiere episodes, it only took a few, fans left for other venues and the Nielsen ratings started to show a trend.  And that trend continued right on through to this final week, this final episode of the series.

You have to remember, when ratings decline like they did for SGU, that hurts advertisers perceptions of the the show.  Advertisers are the life-blood and cash influx of the TV industry and of any show.

[Note:  First season of SGU, on Fridays, roughly averaged 1.8 million viewers]

After the decline of the ratings from season 1, the show moved to Tuesdays.  This move precipitated the continuing downward slide of the viewer numbers.  I thought the move off of Fridays did it in, but after reviewing the historical numbers and jamming them into an analysis chart, I think my perception was incorrect.  Despite the decline, MGM & Syfy took the viewers desires seriously about there being too much talk and not enough action, and retooled some of the show.  But the damage had been done.  Viewers had left and the show being on Tuesdays, up against some of the biggest dramas on standard networks, was doomed to a static performance, no matter what anyone did.

[On Tuesdays, Stargate Universe averaged just under 1.1 million viewers]

They then moved the show to Mondays, yet the TV ratings still slightly degraded.  With the ratings hitting averages just under 1 million viewers, the show cemented it’s status of being unprofitable to the advertisers and the network and the inevitable occurred.

[On Mondays, SGU averaged 0.95 million viewers]

And here we are, the fans being upset that the Destiny is stuck in FTL forever after this.

I know that the numbers I note above in the [note blocks] above make it look like the show declined with each move to a different night, but if you check out this chart below that I made with numbers from the different nights, you can see that there was an inevitable trend that never stopped, and it started after the 2nd episode of the first season.

The numbers up the left side is viewers, in the millions.  The red line is the normalized or averaged out numbers between the different data points.  The first grouping of numbers is season 1, the second group, the Tuesday episodes, the third:  Mondays.

'Stargate Universe' TV Ratings by broadcast day[TV ratings have more value from the day the show airs, not in DVR playback.]

Fans, failed the show, Not Syfy

When I say that, I don’t mean you, the folks that watched the show faithfully… I mean that those who were fans and didn’t like the dark tone of Stargate Universe and bailed on the broadcast airings.  There was no love for the franchise or the universe it existed in, at least when it aired.  The historical ratings from previous series were a result of the love of the banter and the drama.  Not the drama and the trauma that was presented within SGU.  It’s like those fans of automotive sports who root for the winner and bail on him in his down years.  You can’t blame them, they like the excitement of winning.

The other issue, in a strange way, was that this show was streamed/DVR’d and downloaded… a lot more than most shows!  Fans… the viewers, failed the supporters or advertisers of the show and the network had no other choice.  Even if they had, as one commenter once suggested, that they charge a dollar an episode to help offset production costs, having just under 1 million viewers on average was still not enough for their estimated $2 to 3 million episodic budget. (that’s a guess until I hear back from someone about this.)

Sadly, TV is an industry… a business.  Sadly, someone always loses in this battle of the TV ratings.  TV ratings are an interesting concept, where a random sampling of the American television viewing public is chosen to represent all of America.  But ratings don’t stop at TV itself, though right now, that’s the life-blood of it.  Other metrics are reviewed by a network that also help gauge and verify the Nielsen TV Rating numbers.  What is watched from the DVD sales of a series, the digital downloads from iTunes and Amazon, streamed viewings on the Internet, cable On Demand, how many web surfers visit a show’s web site and even piracy numbers are reviewed.  These numbers help verify what is seen in the Nielsen numbers and help a network also make decisions about a series.  Why?  Because if for instance, 3 million people buy the DVD, but then the Nielsen numbers say barely 500k are watching it, then the sampling for those ratings are skewed and now the network knows it.  But if everything more or less correlates,  then we as fans have failed the show.  And again, I’m not referring to the 1.1 million fans who stuck it out and watched the Stargate series finale.

'Stargate Universe' David Blue as Eli or math boy

In the closing scenes of Stargate Universe, as the lights went out in each hallway of Destiny, (BTW, they went out in the exact opposite order that they came on during the premiere episode.) as the darkness embraced each set and we had bid goodnight and farewell to a very beloved science fiction series that had a bit of a rough start but ended up coming around, at least for those who stuck around.  But everything that was done or tried, was way too late and it aired on the wrong nights.

The business, known as NBCU and Syfy, had to cut their losses and move on to another business model of entertainment in the hopes of maintaining their incomes for all the folks that work for the network.

Do I like that Stargate Universe went away?  Hell no.  Can I do anything about it personally?  I don’t think so.  But what I can do is try to help you understand that it wasn’t because of wrestling or cooking shows that the series hit the mat.  It took the TKO because viewers moved on to something else, because the network moved the show to a different night and this whole thing was a team effort.  There really is no one factor to blame.  We lick our wounds, try to see past this moment and move on.

Sincerely, Bruce.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan November 29, 2011 at 8:30 am

I am not convinced that SGU is done. I think that if enough fans ban together we can get it back on the air. I along with many others have engaged in battle with SyFy, MGM and anyone we can think of in order to get the show back. We can bring it back. Arrested Development was just brought back via Netflix. If that show can be brought back so can SGU. Fans of Firefly got a movie made. Jericho was brought back for a half a season just to give fans an ending. All this proves that SGU can come back if the fans come together. The problem is too many people have given up already. They don’t think they can do anything so they just don’t. Wake up people. Show stay on the air because of the fans. The reason the ratings were so bad was based on a number of reasons. The constant shift of when it aired ( I would have missed it when it moved to Monday as SyFy didn’t tell anyone about the shift, thank god for my DVR), the poor excuse of tracking viewers ( it’s outdated and doesn’t take into account people who stream via the internet.) and the fact that SyFy tried having it compete with CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox’s(the Big Four) primetime shows (SG-1, Atlantis, and BSG) did well when they were played during the Big Four were in their off season ( while they were playing reruns and the second string shows). I will admit that SGU was darker than SG-1 and Atlantis and that may have put some fans off. But even so, SGU is on of the highest downloaded show of all time via Torrent sites. SyFy has done everything in their power to make sure they had plenty of room for WWE and reality TV shows like “Face-Off”. Why, because they cost nothing to produce and they make a butt load of money. If you don’t believe anything in my post just Google it. Check out Facebook at all the fan sites for SGU. People all over the world have found articles that prove these facts. SyFy’s own Facebook Page show that SGU was #3 of 10 of people all time favorite shows beaten by SG-1 and Eureka. In fact all 3 Stargate shows made the top Ten along with BSG and Farscape. I know I have ranted a bit so I will close with a quote. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ” Not saying that SyFy or MGM is evil but the point is still valid. We can make a difference, we just need to try.

Thanks,

Dan

Jeff July 29, 2011 at 11:07 pm

So I finally broke down and watched SGU on netflix. I must say that it is a amazing show. Brilliantly done on so many levels. To me that is what SyFy should be about, the mysteries of the Universe, not necessarily ray guns blasting at each other. Even though Ray guns are fun!

I did have some complaints I thought the civilian vs Military was beyond stupid. Still other then that I loved that show and it pains me that it ended the way it did. I guess I can see why it did not make it. There was no real self contained shows. You haft to watch them all. I guess that is why I did not get into it when it was on TV. I would see them walk around gathering food and would think boring, how ever if you see the shows you would see why they need to do that.

In the end a thought provoking show like SGU I guess can’t last in a world of Hospital, CSI and reality shows. Still I think a movie should be made to wrap up this story for the people that have taken the time and seen SGU for the masterpiece it is.

Thanks.

Steven Bell June 25, 2011 at 9:02 pm

SG1 and SGA was good while it lasted.

SGU is so much better.

Sure, season 1 was long and boring, but the 2nd season, it all made sense, all that character and drama building finally came together.
Awesome Awesome Awesome. Epic….

Bryan May 27, 2011 at 8:32 am

I loved BSG….loved it. I loved SG1 and SGA. I hated the SGU, though. I was so pumped about a new SG series after SGA got cancelled. Then, when it finally came on, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was terrible. I stopped watching. I couldn’t believe it when I hear they were making season 2.

Then, about half way through the airing of season 2, I needed a sci-fi fix after watching BSG through for a second time, so I went back and started where I left off with SGU. It was like a different show with the same title and all the same actors in the same sets had take the place of the show I remembered. It was like the light came on in someone’s head half way through the first season and they started writing good episodes, which seemed to just get better and better one after the other. When I heard it had been cancelled, I felt like I had been betrayed by the writers who drove me away in the beginning. It was like they tried to ride BSG’s coattails, but with the SG brand and when they realized it wouldn’t work, they started trying to let SG stand on its own like it had for so many years and it was working. Sadly, it was too late. By that point it was like they knew they had a show worth saving, but couldn’t do anything to keep it afloat.

I was so in to the series that I felt like I did when SGA got canned. I was sad.
Only this time, I don’t hold out much hope for future explorations of the SG universe. I think SGU will be the last we see of the wooshing, shimmering event horizons. I hope I’m wrong, though. I hope we get to see more. Perhaps the descendants will find some of their people and tell the tale of adventures with the ancestors; of how there are other humas out there, all across the galaxy, and some distant planet will develop their own SG program and start looking for a planet called Earth.

Joshua May 17, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Like it or not, sundiego47 assessment of SGU and Syfy are correct. Syfy executive don’t have a clue why fans loved the previous series. They assume that by changing the format of the franchise they can draw more viewership.
We are here to be entertained not to psycho-analyzed character behavior. It’s just too bad the show died a horrible ratings death.

Bruce Simmons May 12, 2011 at 9:18 am

sundiego47: I hear what you’re saying. Unfortunately for us, the fans of the old-style Sfi-Fi network, we’re becoming victims of their desire to branch out and to be know for more than STAR TREK and STAR WARS. I’m as much not a fan of most of their new reality shows.

And you are right sundeigo47, bad assumption that you have to swallow the new colored pill of a franchise, just because of what it was. I look back at what I said and I think I had the wrong analogy on that premise!

I stuck it out and I am glad I did… but then again, I also enjoyed BSG.

Milind: Joseph Mallozzi said that about the DVR and downloading. And just so you’re aware, BSG was not cancelled in the traditional sense. Moore wrote out a finite story line and ended it.

Tim: It’s hard to say what goes on behind most shows and how much that a network will nudge and muddle a process of a series. I truly believe they had STARGATE go down the dark, character driven mode that was very much like BSG, to take its place. That’s my conjecture, but I think they were desperate enough to want to change it up and try to “improve” or change up SG to make it the ratings anchor that BSG became.

And sadly, I’ve had way too many great shows that I thought were smart and excellent entertainment, tank hard because of bad ratings and how the Nielsen families eat up the … other venues.

Ratings don’t always reflect the quality of the show. They can seemingly reflect the acceptance of our TV audience and how much they want to either wrap their minds around something or just sit and mindlessly take a break from life and watch cast-aways or ‘house guests.’

I am not fond of the process some days, that’s for sure!

Tim Miller May 12, 2011 at 4:32 am

It is an interesting concept that if show is good that enough viewers will watch for it to be profitable.

So, you are saying that Syfy or any network never interferes in the creative process, The network never suggest a storyline or is involved in casting. It is the producers and writers alone that bear that responsibility and the blame or praise for the ratings. The network only buys the shows and tries to find a time slot where it will provide the most bang for the buck. Therefore the network is not responsible for a shows quality.

If that is the case then I have to agree with you one-hundred percent.

Milind May 11, 2011 at 8:02 pm

“The other issue, in a strange way, was that this show was streamed/DVR’d and downloaded… a lot more than most shows!” – Where did you get this information? Where can one find the rate of online sales for a show or episode?

Good points, all around. But I do agree with sundiego47 in that the repeated cancellation of loyally followed shows like Farscape, BSG, Caprica, and now SGU, is evidence of the poor methodologies that are endemic to tv executives who have not figured out how to analyse a tech savvy viewership. They are damaging quality tv and ruining the network’s reputation. Their clients, or specifically their agencies, are no different, and Nielson is slow to come around as well. Soon I won’t bother giving a new series on Syfy a chance, since I expect it’ll just be cancelled before I’m ready for it to end.

gamble May 11, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Sundiego47….. well said. Well said. Bravo.

gamble May 11, 2011 at 5:44 pm

You’re correct stat wise. I loved the st franchise …. everything xcept sgu. I faithfully watched sgu. I watched when I couldn’t take the scripts of bickering, bickering and more bickering. I hoped they would get on with business of the universe instead of who would be the top dog and win the internal political games. There was soppose to be a universe out there for story themes but the script centered on what the petty internal egos were doing. I forced myself to watch the demise of a great legacy out of hope and respect for what it once was. Stats be damned. The final coffin nail was delivered by lack of vision of the stargate concept and ignoring what made it great in the first place ….. Imagation.
Instead they took it into the soap opera realm. RIP SGU.

sundiego47 May 11, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Creating a brand has nothing to do with wrestling or reality tv. Google and Apple aren’t shoveling garbage at me telling me I need to endure it to be profitable. Simple fact is the people at Syfy have no idea what scifi means and thus their brand is now meaningless. I actually dont watch any shows now on their station because of the other garbage they put out. Their real problem is they are a cable channel and slowly the Internet is stealing their business, so by destroying their brand they are destroying their last vestige of even having a chance of surviving post cable. Your assumption that I have to endure the garbage for the benefit of the brand is just wrong. Good brands are built by visionaries that are willing to look ahead and not where they are right now. A good wine tastes like piss if you open it right away and that is what syfy is doing. Syfy is dead to me and I will let them know it everyday until something gives.

The reason every DVR’s it is because their regular programming is so awful they can’t stand to watch it even for a few seconds. It’s like if you were a christian watching the 700 club and had to endure commercials with porno in between. The ratings for SGU were off the charts just they are loosing brand/viewership because they execs at SyFy are clueless plain and simple.

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