July 13, 2013 7:00am PT by Graeme McMillan
Could 'Sharknado's' Social Media Success Be Bad for Syfy?
The surreal success of Sharknado, the original TV movie that is exactly what its title suggests, presents Syfy with a classic good news/bad news scenario. On the plus side, a lot of people were talking about the movie during its premiere broadcast last night. According to Trendrr, which tracks social chatter, it was Syfy's most social broadcast ever, with over 386,000 mentions on social media during the night, three times the channel's previous record. On the other hand, everyone was discussing a cheesy movie where a shark-infested tornado ravaged Los Angeles.
That Sharknado hit a chord is clear, even if its ratings failed to raise for the occasion, compared with other Syfy original movies; in addition to the social media success, Time's TV critic James Poniewozik took a break from his vacation to rave about the movie, calling it "shlock and campily hilarious" and "an awesome, immersive thing," while Alan Sepinwall praised the movie as being "so ludicrous that it became a draw for me and other looky-lous, and it gave us exactly what we wanted: something unapologetically dumb and cheap and outrageous to laugh at (and, occasionally, with) for a couple of hours on a slow summer Thursday night."
There's no denying that the movie was a success, at least when it comes to getting people to talk about Syfy. But was it the kind of success that will ultimately help Syfy as a channel in any meaningful way? After all, in terms of buzz -- but not, interestingly enough, ratings -- Sharknado made far more impact than Defiance, a series the network has heavily invested in as a long-term commitment. Is there a danger that the channel could become known more for its schlock than its "serious" programming?
The answer to that possibly rests on what Syfy does in response to the attention that Sharknado has gathered. Scheduling a quick re-run is a smart move -- those that missed the movie's first two airings will have a chance to see what all the fuss was about next Thursday at 7 p.m. Eastern -- but it'll be interesting to see if the channel tries to redirect these new eyeballs they suddenly have towards Defiance, Helix or some of the other, more high-brow, scripted dramas currently in development in an attempt to prove that they can do something else, as well.
Also to be borne in mind is that, ultimately, the Sharknado buzz isn't that big of a deal, outside of… well, the buzz itself. Defiance - already renewed for a second year -- consistently got higher ratings for the network, and other series such as Warehouse 13 and Haven tend to be in the same region as Sharknado (if both slightly higher) on a weekly basis. Any argument that Sharknado means that the network has lost credibility can be met with one that simply points to the ratings and shrugs, "Well, more people actually watch the other stuff."
When it comes down to it, Sharknado did exactly what it was supposed to: Make people sit up and pay attention (You don't call something Sharknado for any other reason, let's be honest). If the movie's shamelessness, or the completely over-the-top talk of getting Johnny Depp and Damon Lindelof involved for a sequel translate into people who weren't even aware of Syfy learning about the channel, that's a win.
Well, assuming that the network doesn't overreact and re-name itself Sharkfy anytime soon, of course.