The Business of Sci-Fi: Can Comcast Turn Syfy Into the Next AMC?

NBCUniversal’s genre channel signs edgy new dramas as fan favorites “Being Human” and “Warehouse 13” come to an end.

Tim Beyers
Tim Beyers
Apr 20, 2014 at 12:00AM
The Business

Thanks to the success of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, networks are offering more fantasy, sci-fi, and genre programming than ever before. And yet the original genre channel -- Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Syfy -- hasn't cashed in nearly as well as HBO or AMC Networks.  

To remedy that, Comcast subsidiary NBCUniversal brought in new leadership in November and shuffled the programming lineup. Fool contributor Tim Beyers asks Tony Tellado of the popular genre site Sci-Fi Talk to weigh in on the changes and whether they'll have the impact Comcast seems to be aiming for.

Tony says we'll see a darker tone under Bill McGoldrick, who previously led scripted programming at sibling subsidiary USA Network. At Syfy, he'll be Executive Vice President of Original Content. His team's recent acquisitions include series orders for the zombie drama Z Nation and the mythological drama Olympus.

Helix performed well in its inaugural 13-episode season. Credit: Syfy.

They'll join the pandemic drama Helix, which drew a respectable 1.8 million viewers in its January pilot and then ended strong with accelerating viewership for the final three episodes of its inaugural season. Syfy plans to air season 2 in winter 2015.

Other new scripted projects include movie adaptations Dominion, which arrives in June and is based on the 2010 film Legion, and 12 Monkeys, which debuts in January and is based on the 1995 film of the same name.

Continuing dramas include Defiance, Haven, and Lost Girl. Unscripted shows are also gaining steam, including Jim Henson's Creature Shop and a forthcoming sci-fi talk show starring Wil Wheaton. The bulkier slate comes as Being Human concluded with an abbreviated fourth season earlier this month. Warehouse 13, too, is in its final season.

Tony says the go-darker strategy, which drew well in the case of Helix, doesn't guarantee success. So what should investors be looking for? Twists and turns that put its key properties back on magazine covers, like in the days when Syfy was winning Friday nights with Battlestar Galactica. Deals with top-notch genre writers and producers such as former Battlestar showrunner Ron Moore would also be a good sign.

And yet it could be years before we see either materialize for Syfy and Comcast. Meanwhile, AMC and HBO are locked in a battle for cable supremacy while Netflix's deal with Marvel Studios guarantees subscribers a boatload of superhero action when the first of four exclusive series debuts there in 2015. And Moore? He's busy producing Outlander for Starz.

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Now it's your turn to weigh in. Do you believe Syfy can be a catalyst for Comcast? Why or why not? Please watch the video to get the full story and then leave a comment to let us know your take, including whether you would buy, sell, or short Comcast stock at current prices.