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An Open Letter to Stargate Fans From Syfy

Thursday - May 12, 2011
Category: RATINGS | Tags: ,

From the Editor: With the end of Stargate Universe on Syfy this week, fans of the show are understandably upset.  Why was the show cancelled?  Did the move from Friday nights do it more harm than good? Today we welcome a guest post from Craig Engler, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Syfy Digital.  Our thanks to Craig for taking the time to respond to some of the concerns coming from Stargate fans, and to explain the network’s decision-making process.

An Open Letter to Stargate Fans From Syfy

There’s been a lot written about Stargate Universe and Syfy in the weeks leading up to SGU‘s recent finale, and a lot of questions and concerns directed at Syfy about how we handled the series. I wanted to take some time to address the issues that have come up and thought GateWorld, which has been a huge supporter of the entire Stargate franchise, would be a good place to do it. So thanks to them for giving me the space here, and thanks to you for taking the time to read this.

When MGM and Syfy mutually decided to bring Stargate Atlantis to an end after five seasons, they did so knowing they’d transition to a new show in the franchise, Stargate Universe. SGU was a bold new take on Stargate that Brad Wright and Robert Cooper had had in mind for a long time, and one that we’d discussed with them off and on. It first came to us as a pitch many years ago.

Because Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis had performed so well for us in the past, we felt confident about SGU and committed to a two-season deal for it, as long as the show met certain milestones along the way. Two-season deals are rare in the TV world because they tie up a huge amount of investment (both time and money), but our great track record with MGM and Stargate made this seem like as much of a sure thing as you’ll get in the TV business. That means before any footage was shot or any actors were hired, we knew there’d be 40 episodes.

The show quickly moved forward and officially launched on October 2, 2009. The debut was watched by a good if not spectacular 2,779,000 viewers. To give that some perspective, Stargate Atlantis debuted with over 4 million viewers, so SGU was more than 25% below that. On the plus side, SGU actually grew in week 2 to just about 3 million viewers before falling into the 2.6 million range where it seemed like it was going to settle. That’s a fairly typical pattern for a new series, and at this point the show was doing okay.

In week six viewers dropped to 2.3 million, or 20% off the season high. It’s not unusual for a show to fluctuate a bit, so as long as it bounced back this wouldn’t be too much of a concern. There was indeed a bit of a recovery the next week, but that was followed by another small drop. Then viewership took a further dip to 1,961,000, or 33% down from the season high. Obviously there was concern at this point, but we were headed into the hiatus and shows often see a bump after a break (contrary to popular belief).

Coming back from hiatus the show in fact grew modestly to 2,088,000 viewers and then added more viewers the next week, hitting 2,153,000. It looked like we were regaining momentum. Unfortunately things stalled there and for the next two months SGU hovered between 2,116,000 and a low of 1,708,000 viewers, below where we could sustain it. So despite the brief post-hiatus bump, after two episodes it settled in at a lower number and we ended up averaging 1,982,000 viewers for season 1.5.

With untenably low numbers and no sign of growth on Fridays where it had now lost 1/3 of its initial audience, we decided to move SGU for its second season. We’d had tremendous success on Tuesday’s with our breakout hit Warehouse 13, so we paired SGU with Caprica and moved them to Tuesdays, hoping to introduce both shows to a new audience. As you probably know by now the downward trend continued and ultimately we weren’t able to continue either series.

We moved the final 10 episodes of SGU to Monday nights where we’d just had success with a new show called Being Human, but the ratings remained flat. SGU did finish out its run with a nice spike for the finale, which is something else you also typically see with TV shows (it’s called the “terminal spike” in ratings parlance).

Click to enlarge

What you see above is simply Syfy and MGM trying to make a great new Stargate series, seeing some initial success, then when it began to struggle, seeing attempts to find a way to keep it going. You’ve probably read numerous rumors to the contrary. I’ll look at the most prevalent:

The erratic scheduling killed SGU:
We started the show on Fridays where we’ve had the most success and where it initially did well, and we left it there until it started struggling. When it was clear the show had fallen to unsustainable levels and would not survive on Fridays, only then did we move it to the night where our highest rated show of all time had recently aired.

The hiatus killed SGU:
As you can see from the ratings above, the biggest drop in viewers came before the hiatus, not after. In fact, SGU actually grew around 10% after the hiatus between season 1.0 and 1.5 in its first two episodes back.

If you’d left it on Friday nights, it would have done well:
When left on Friday nights SGU lost 1/3 of its audience and dropped to consistently unsustainable ratings levels. The only hope of keeping it was to move it to another night where new viewers could find it.

You canceled SGU because you hate science fiction:
If we didn’t like science fiction we simply wouldn’t have made SGU. It’s because we like science fiction that we tried it. Even though SGU was ultimately unsuccessful, we don’t regret trying it. Science fiction shows are the backbone and lifeblood of our network, and we have many in development. Later this year we’ll be debuting Alphas, the Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome pilot is being worked on as you read this, the movie Red Faction starring Stargate Universe‘s Brian Jacob Smith will air next month, 5 of our original dramas will return with new seasons or new episodes this year, and we’re working on many more behind the scenes.

You never supported SGU:
There is literally no one other than MGM who supported it more than we did. We were the only network who gave the show a try and the only ones who committed to making and airing 40 episodes before a script had been written. We invested tens of millions of dollars and thousands of hours of work over many years making and supporting the show.

You canceled SGU in order to make wrestling:
We would have happily kept making SGU regardless of anything else on our schedule if the ratings were sustainable. We don’t discontinue successful shows to make room for other shows … no network does because no network has a full roster of successful series. SGU was judged solely on its own ratings.

You don’t like Stargate:
We love Stargate. Combined we’ve made 12 seasons of 3 separate series and helped support two SG-1 films. It’s been an amazing ride and we’re incredibly proud of the cast and crew of all the shows, and thankful to all the viewers who watched.

Note: The ratings I used above are Live +7 numbers, or the total number of viewers who watched the show live and during the following 7 days via DVR. Although advertisers buy based on just the 18-49 segment of these numbers and thus the 18-49 ratings would be much smaller, I’m using L7 numbers here for convenience as they represent the total audience. The % drops and lows of the 18-49 numbers would be even more significant (i.e. worse) than what the L7s show, but not so much that it’s worth doing all the math for.

Craig Engler is Senior Vice President and General Manager of Syfy Digital. You can find him on Twitter @Syfy. (More)

COMMENTS (483):Rules | Report Comment | Trackback

  • Syfy, you certainly took the risk from the start so I can’t fault you for that. But you could’ve promoted SGU a bit better.

  • Let the bashing begin! Who will be first to proclaim SyFy is rubbish and awful?

  • I think the best way to show fans how you love Stargate would be ordering a movie or two. Less past tense, more future tense.

    “the biggest drop in viewers came before the hiatus, not after”
    As far as I can remember, there was a pointless one week break before the final episode before hiatus, that’s the reason there was a drop in viewers!!!

  • Darren

    Hi Everyone: Please remember the comment rules, including especially treating others (including a network rep) with respect. Please state your opinions with tact and respect, and not raw insults.

  • Thank you Craig for trying to clear the air. I hope people will consider your point of view as a business.

  • @Syfy Craig Engler,
    Are you going to fix the scheduling for Sanctuary season 4 since it has less viewers on Monday nights now then it did on Friday nights a couple weeks ago? Or will you let this move be it’s death sentence as well???

    And, did you think to account for what the ratings of its HUGE competitors were getting at the same time? Putting Stargate Universe up against such long running hits like NCIS and Dancing with the Stars wasn’t very smart. I watch both NCIS and SGU, how am I to choose which to watch live? The amazing show that I’m the only one in the house that watches (SGU) or NCIS that I can watch with my dad?

  • Rating ratings ratings… For my part I’ve only been watching Stargate on a weekly basis for about ten years now… Never once has MY viewership been counted in any of the metrics. I don’t have a Nelson box, and my cable provider doesn’t capture my DVR viewing habits to report in either.

    Add to that the dozen or so people (at our peak) that would gather each week to watch it. They weren’t getting counted either, because they viewed it in my home.

    The fact is, what killed SGU is nothing that you dismissed (rightly so), but that the rating system you (and everyone else) use is fundamentally flawed. You got it wrong here: “The ratings I used above are Live +7 numbers, or the total number of viewers who watched the show live and during the following 7 days via DVR.” No. That’s not a count of your actual *viewers* but how many times it was viewed. The DVR doesn’t know how many people are sitting on my couch.

    I don’t know how you measure success… but I’d say SGU was extremely successful as evidinced by the vocal outcry over its cancellation. Haven’t seen fans of a show this worked up since, well Atlantis ended.

    Your benchmarks are flawed and the sooner you realize that, the sooner better ones can be devised.

    So while I appreciate your position, I do hope it registers that SGU was the third strike.
    I’ve withdrawn my viewership from all things on SyFy… despite you still being the only station on my TV having anything worth my time.

    Not that I’ve been counted anyway.

  • Plus, it wouldn’t have killed SyFy to throw a bone and order up a mini-season of a handful of episodes to let the story get wrapped up somehow.

  • Well, I won’t bash SyFy specifically, but to say they’re just like everything else that has an American hand in it (yes, I’m American; yes, I’m eyeing New Zealand and Canada for expatriation).

    1. Chaz buys Ferari.

    2. Chaz needs gas for Ferari.

    3. Chaz lobbies to lower his taxes to afford the gas (and buy a few more Feraris).

    4. Chaz needs gas for 3 Feraris, so Chaz moves manufacturing out of America and fires all the workers (we don’t really make anything anymore, we just have bunch of weird service industries like Health Care and the prison system, cell phone carries, that make us pay more and more money for, well, nothing really).

    TV is the same way. We used to have lots of fun shows. We finally start getting some interesting genre shows, and then everything goes reality, because they are cheap.

    It is all about gas for their Feraris.

    So that leaves books. I started with Asimov, and it’ll just come full circle.

    My 52″ TV does make a really nice monitor for my PC games, however, and I can stream old genre show episodes to it, so it won’t go to waste.

    I won’t be tuning in for “Wife Swap Dancing NASCAR Wrestling Big Loser Stars Idol Apprentice Bosses”.

    It would be interesting to know if the rest of the world watches that reality stuff, or if it’s purely an American trash thing? It’s embarrassing.

  • Hopefully, someday, Syfy will find a way to help produce and air the SGA and SG1 movies that were originally promised by MGM. That would at least be something.

  • The reason I stopped watching was because the show changed way to much and did not seem like stargate anymore. I liked battlestar galatica reboot but I don’t need a stargate series like it.

    and unlike star trek deep space 9 that had a darker tone but still seemed like star trek, stargate universe really did not.

    Also Hitting everybody upside the head witht he huge change on the first day with all the changes to stargate that the show made was not a smart move all it did was piss me and other off and I did not care for it much on day one, other shows did the changes slow when they do a spin off that would have another theme to it from the main series. (except torchwood but you know if it had captain jack as the star it would be insane you know who he was)

    Also somebody killed stargate atlantis then said Hey you are getting stargate universe and you will like it like at the same time. most shows have been off the air at least a year or 2 before they do a reboot of the entire series.

    So ya If They Try again with a new stargate series and do a better job at being stargate with new changes i would come back.

    Right now all I watch on syfy is sanctuary (and I had little warning it changed to monday thanks syfy I missed episodes and cant get into it this time) and eureaka in the summer. OH and stargate reruns…Other than that I don’t really watch anymore so I never so your advertizements that you moved the shows yet again.

    Also I may be in the small numbers But i like to watch my Sci-fo on weekeds or friday when I have nothing to do the next day, during the week I got stuff to do and just watch stuff I do not have to focas much on, like mythbusters or things.

  • You cancel an amazing SCI-FI show on SYFY but you make these stupid cooking and wrestling shows. Be a SCI-FI channel. Cancel those shows. Goodness you don’t even have any good science fiction shows on right now. And you cancel your last true one. Way to go. You lost a viewer.

  • Stryse couldnt have put it any better. I dont have a nielsen box or even a dvr so i , my wife and my teenage daughter wouldnt be included in any count.

  • I’ve been a fan since the original movie. What a shame to see this brilliant show ended. But we see it all the time. Honestly, StarGate fans have themselves to blame. I’d never heard so much whinging in the first season because it did not fit into the typical hygienic Stargate mould. The creators of the show did a fantastic job of making this the characters more personal and realistic. We’re over superhero’s and happy families and this was a welcome and needed change to the franchise. Seriously you need at least a season to flesh out the characters and story and a lot of StarGate fans did not give it a chance.
    The characters in this story were real and honest and it grieves me that we’ll never see them again and find out where these diverse and interesting people with their ancient bus end up. Sigh…….. To the actors of the show I wish to thank you all for such a fantastic effort and we’ll miss you. To the writers, you have my respect and admiration and I’m sorry it didn’t work out.

  • OH and the stargate movies.

    Make them one of your Syfy original movies. I do get a Kick out of the crazy mutant crocodile movies and stuff like that you make for the insane concept of it all.

    But god you could get a fricking stargate movie for that and it would be a million times better than any other “Syfy orginal movie” You have ever made.


    So, I even understand why you cancelled SGU, because of 1 Milion Viewers compared to SGA’s 4 Milion Viewers.

    My question is: If SGA had 4 Milion Viewers why did you cancelled it? And aren’t 4 Milion almost garanteed views enought to bring back SGA, even if its just 1 ”Test Season” to see how it performs or to make the SGA movie? I think there are some thing you are right, but another thing you are very wrong!

    Why do you think so many people stopped watching Stargate? Well, SGU’s Season 1 sucked, all your ‘usual viewers’ went away due to the cancelation of SG-1; BSG; Caprica; SGA; Andromeda and pretty much every other REAL SCI-FI series.

    From now on, i dont think you can expect 2M+ viewers on any of your shows because you STOPPED doing sci-fi and you started airing Wresling witch has LESS views that what SGA had.


  • I have to disagree about the amount of promotion by Syfy. I watch(ed) SGU on the Space channel here in Canada and their show Innerspace had a Stargate: Universe special in which fans got to watch an episode of SGU and meet the cast in Toronto. The actors (even the supporting cast) came out on stage and did interviews. They even dedicated an episode to the end of SGU and the Stargate franchise following the airing of “Gauntlet”. I know a lot of SGU fans on Twitter, both here in Canada and in the U.S. and it seems that Syfy was doing very little to promote Stargate: Universe compared to the Space channel, even though the series was produced by Syfy. SGU was Space’s highest rated show, and while that may not mean much to a U.S. audience or the Syfy channel I think that if more of a push was given to promote Stargate (both Universe and Atlantis) the franchise would have survived. Granted, the show had its critics from the start (particularly Atlantis fans who thought SGA was cancelled in favor of SGU) but I really think Syfy could have done more than just changing the programming schedule in order to keep one of the longest running sci-fi franchises on the air.

  • Thank you Craig. I’ve never once believed that Syfy did anything but support SGU and the franchise over the years. You did everyone to try and save a failing show but it’s not the channels fault that the show just didn’t appeal to enough viewers.

    Hopefully Stargate will return at some time in the future with a new creative team, who can bring fresh ideas to the Franchise and recapture what made it so popular.

  • I just wanted to say as a supporter of Syfy, and a Global Moderator for, I am proud of this network. They gave is 12 Seasons of Stargate that I have enjoyed. I think Craig is being very supportive by replying to all these fans attacks. I think some people need to understand that this is a business, and SGU was not making money for the network.

    Thank you Darren and Craig for letting this happen, always a pleasure reading your articles.



  • Hey

    First i’d like to thank him for taking the time out to respond to a majority of the criticisms leveled at the network.

    Now certainly i’m still upset with SGU’s canceling but he’s not wrong that the ratings have been rather unfortunate. And it’s true, there are many more Stargate fans than will ever be counted in Nielson’s data but that’s just the way it is unfortunately.

    As for the move to Tuesdays i feel it was a mistake. It’s true they’ve had success there but that was in the summer. And hey, Stargate was originally a summer series. I feel like airing in the summer would have given it a much better chance. As for potentially airing it after Wrestling it seems that, while it would have produced better ratings, it was never an option for SyFy. With the amount of money they were spending they wanted (needed?) SGU to anchor a night.

    SyFy certainly didn’t make the greatest decisions along the way but the viewer erosion wasn’t their fault. SGU didn’t start out with the bang fans expected and they checked out over time. Maybe that’s the fault of the series, or maybe that’s the fault of the fans for not sticking with it, but either way that’s just how it was.


    Sad realities :-/

    As for the “hate” against SGU being too different – honestly i enjoyed Atlantis but that’s 15 seasons (with SG1) of going through the gate, getting into trouble, and getting out of it. I wanted something new and SGU gave it to me. I was definitely pleased they took a new creative approach, even if it didn’t hit it’s stride until season 2.

  • Unfortunately I think the next thing we see for Stargate will be a rebooting. Maybe they’ll pursue the original trilogy idea and then adapt that for television.

  • My fellow SciFi fans… do not become complacent with the ‘way things are’ in terms of the rating system. YOU are the consumer, and the power to change things begins and ends with you.

  • First, I do think it’s great (and gutsy) that you came out here to respond – it shows a lot more than I’m used to seeing from Syfy.

    I do disagree that Syfy supported the show as much as possible. A miniseries order, or support for the show (or movies) despite less-than-great ratings shows support above and beyond any other network – ordering seasons because the ratings are good is just business sense, not really support.

    Otherwise, I think Stryse hits the nail on the head. Perhaps the Syfy could’ve developed other ways to count the numbers.

  • @Stryse I fully agree with you. Well said

    @Craig Engler Thankyou for one thing. Comming out and addressing fans. But, with no hate. I doubt you’ll get much higher ratings on your newer shows than what you had with Stargate. Stargate is an iconic scifi show, a show and story that has gone on for 16 years, and you let it end without an ending. Sure you may have made a buisness descision, but that decision has hurt your franchise IMO, and also hurt 3/4 of your viewers. I use to like your network, or the network called SciFi

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