Comcast Corp.'s (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Syfy network will soon release sharks into the streets of New York City. Sharknado 2: The Second One premieres on July 30 and picks up with the surviving cast from last year's cult film. Will The Second One bring in the ratings numbers of the first film?
Sharknado premiered last July to lower-than-average ratings, but it became a social media phenomenon. Future airings attracted more viewers, a one-night screening was arranged at some Regal Entertainment Group (NYSE:RGC) cinemas, and merchandising deals were struck.
Will Sharknado 2: The Second One cause the same stir?
Sharknado wasn't a Syfy hit right out of the gate. The premiere night attracted about 1.4 million viewers -- slightly below average for a Syfy debut.
The movie's premise? A hurricane brings sharks on land and in pursuit of a cast that includes Beverly Hills 90210 veteran Ian Ziering, American Pie's Tara Reid, and John Heard. The title and premise led to the movie trending on Twitter despite the low initial ratings.
Syfy saw an opportunity and brought Sharknado back to air the following week -- and it saw ratings jump to 1.9 million viewers. The number jumped again on the third showing, to 2.1 million.
Sharknado was pushed past its audience limits when Regal Entertainment had a one-night midnight screening of the film in 200 theaters around the country. The endeavor led to box-office returns of only about $200,000.
How much money did the better-received television airings bring in for Syfy?
Comcast enters The Asylum
The Sharknado films were produced by The Asylum, a movie house devoted to churning out low-cost "mockbusters." Ever scrolled through Netflix and seen a title suspiciously similar to a current blockbuster in movie theaters? That's probably an Asylum film.
Thomas Vitale, Syfy executive VP of programming and original movies, spoke with Forbes last year about how the channel gets involved with movies like Sharknado. Syfy commissions the films from independent studios and then serves as a co-producer. Vitale said Syfy puts up about $800,000 for the films, which can cost up to $2 million to produce.
How well these movies pay off financially for Syfy is more nebulous. Parent company Comcast has a lot of pots in the fire -- especially with the current acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Syfy fits into the NBCUniversal subsidiary but usually doesn't even merit a specific mention in earnings releases.
Sharknado's success still matters to the company, but more from a marketing and branding standpoint. What other Syfy movies have inspired clothing and accessories sold at Wal-Mart stores, vinyl toys, and a Halloween costumes?
The film also marked the turning point for critics who now judge Syfy's original movies based on the intended campy nature rather than compare the works to serious science-fiction films. Sharknado currently holds an 82% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
Foolish final thoughts
Sharknado 2: The Second One won't need the slow build of the first film, since the audience was already established. Syfy has an entire launch week planned around the film that will amount to the B-movie equivalent of Discovery Channel's Shark Week, and the channel has already ordered a third film. Expect to see Twitter explode again on premiere night, but Regal might want to stay out of it this time.