COMET or EPIX
Comet is a digital broadcast network that MGM Television itself operates on behalf of the channel’s owner, Sinclair Television Group. It already has a bent toward the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres — and it has been running Stargate reruns for a couple of years now. Launched in October 2015, Comet is as close as it gets to an MGM sci-fi channel. It’s an “over-the-top” service, meaning that Comet is available both through local TV affiliates (in more than 100 national markets) and also through digital services, including major platforms such as Roku and Apple TV.
MGM also owns the premium cable channel Epix, launched in 2009. Epix does have some original scripted programming, including one from MGM Television: 10-episode Get Shorty premiered in August, 2017. But the channel has relatively low market reach: though it does offer viewers online streaming choices Epix has only one major, national carrier (Dish Network). Other major players including Comcast and DirecTV don’t carry it (and don’t plan to).
MGM actually took full control of Epix only last spring when it bought out partners Viacom and Lionsgate. This sort of home would bring Stargate full circle and back into the premium cable realm (SG-1 started on Showtime), and help the studio drive subscriptions to a young service.
UPDATE: Epix is now planning to launch a standalone, direct-to-consumer video subscription service (a la Netflix). MGM will supply original series to help acquire customers.
(MGM also owns the new family-friendly venture Light TV and well as ThisTV and a video-on-demand channel called Impact. It also programs the action-adventure network Charge! for Sinclair in an arrangement similar to Comet.)
Pros: Corporate “synergy”: MGM’s broadcast arms and TV production unit ultimately work for the same boss, and are rowing in the same direction.
Cons: Small channels with relatively low audience reach
A STREAMING GIANT
Netflix is perhaps the biggest player in town these days, spending more than $7 billion on content in 2018 (plus another $2 billion on marketing). It boasts a subscriber base of 118 million people — a number one analyst thinks could reach 200 million by the year 2020. The company also has an effective international distribution strategy, with many original series releasing simultaneously all over the globe.
The other big players in the online streaming television game are, of course, Hulu and Amazon. From House of Cards and The Crown to Orange is the New Black and Transparent, these original dramas get good budgets, lots of marketing, and viral viewership. MGM already has experience here, too: it produces the critical hit The Handmaid’s Tale, winner of the 2017 Emmy for Best Drama, for Hulu.
Netflix in particular has emerged as genre-friendly. Stranger Things has the horror nostalgia market covered, while Black Mirror is the most talk-about anthology on TV today. Marvel’s Daredevil and his Defenders friends give Netflix its own, exclusive comic book universe. Brad Wright’s Travelers is a smartly written and acted time travel show, and this month the ambitious, hard sci-fi drama Altered Carbon dropped. And on the more family-friendly side, a remake of Lost in Space will debut in April.What Netflix doesn’t have is an established, sprawling sci-fi franchise to call its own. And this is where Stargate can deliver (especially with a deal that brings the previous series to Netflix). What would this look like in practical terms? If other Netflix originals are the pattern we’re talking about a 13-episode season, well-funded, with off-network advertising and ready to stream in its entirety in every country on the same day.
That’s ideal for the fourth Stargate series for a number of reasons. The budget is right, and the audience exposure is great (just look at how quickly Stranger Things became a pop culture phenomenon). There is creative flexibility, while giving the show space to be as episodic or as serialized as it needs to be. Fans can share it with their friends, and new viewers can stumble upon it on casual a Friday night. And the millions-strong Stargate fan community all over the world can, for the very first time in franchise history, enjoy new content at the same time and on an equal footing.
Pros: International, simultaneous release; money to burn; and exposure to a massive audience
Cons: Cons … cons … hmmm. I’m drawing a blank here. I guess dropping 13 episodes all at once makes it harder to avoid spoilers online? UPDATE 2019: But see this unsettling bit of reporting on Netflix’s business model, which seems to be incentivizing it to cancel shows after just 20 or 30 episodes.
THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
In any case, one thing about Stargate Origins should still be said: The short-form Web series can, and ought to, continue regardless. Additional Origins stories set at any point in the timeline can run on Stargate Command in parallel to a full-length show, offering original in-canon stories and providing quality, exclusive content — even enough to justify a conservative subscription model.
This is an exciting picture: a short-form, online series that explores the origins of characters and races we know and love, while a long-form Netflix show assembles a new Stargate team to blaze a trail into the future.
It’s likely that MGM Television is keeping a close eye on Stargate Origins and its reception as it weighs where to take the franchise next. And it sure isn’t a bad sign that the studio has recently expanded its scripted television team. It looks as though the question now is not if Stargate will return to television, but when and how.
MGM, I hope you’re reading. As someone who has been deeply invested in Stargate for 20 years now, here is my guiding question:
What is in the best interests of the Stargate franchise and its long-term health?
Answering this obviously requires a complex calculation of creative and financial factors. But it should include a strategy that exposes Stargate (new and old) to new viewers, giving people who are already paying for other content (e.g. through their Netflix subscription) the chance to discover this sci-fi gem. It should be a plan that works for newcomers and casual viewers.
And it should also work for the fans — those of us who in one way or another have poured years of love into Stargate. That entails more than keeping up 17 seasons of story continuity (as important as this is). In a time when we are no longer dependent upon broadcasters in order to access great stories, the plan for the fourth show ought to treat those fans — in the U.S. and Canada, in Italy and Croatia, in France and the Philippines, in Brazil and Ghana — equally.
What do you think? Post your thoughts below, or tag @GateWorld on Twitter.
NEXT UP: In a future post we’ll consider the options for when (and where) a fourth Stargate series should be set. Stay tuned!