The SyFy channel recently announced that it was moving its popular original series Sanctuary from its Friday night slot to Monday nights. Fans were immediately in an uproar, threatening to boycott the network for what they saw as a “death move.” Sanctuary fans are already leery of the channel since granting the series a season four renewal for a tiny twelve episodes and many cross-over Stargate fans are dubious given what they consider the unjust cancellation of Stargate: Universe. On the other side of the fence there are those that are praising the execs over at SyFy for their wisdom and continued support of the sci-fi community without examining the reasoning behind the move.
I’m not going to berate or boycott the SyFy Channel for their decision to move Sanctuary nor am I going to add to the already nauseating ass kissing. Instead, I’d like to take the logical approach and hopefully fans will agree. Why would SyFy want to move the last remaining science fiction show from their infamous Sci-Fi Friday spot? A look at the Friday night ratings may just give us the answer.
Sanctuary has held pretty steady in their ratings despite previous switches, averaging about 1.36 million viewers and holding steady at 0.4 adult viewers between the ages of 18 and 49. If we take a look at the ratings for WWE: Smackdown, which airs right before Sanctuary on Friday nights, their average rating is about 2.8 million viewers with an average of 0.8 adult viewers between the ages of 18 and 49. For those of you into math, that’s a difference of 1.44 million viewers between shows. Which means that approximately 1.44 million viewers turn off their televisions when Sanctuary comes on.
Ratings can be a scary thing, ask any SGU fan. Regardless of the archaic Nielsen system that every network exec and even Nielsen themselves admits is faulty if not broken, it’s the only thing we have. I will say this, networks need to take into account the viewers who go online to either the network sites, Hulu or iTunes to watch the episodes and factor them into the Nielsen numbers. A vast majority of people will record their favorite shows on the DVR and watch them at a more convenient time, or they’ll go online and watch the episodes on the network’s site, or download them from iTunes. Those numbers are rarely, if ever, calculated into the final ratings result. The Nielsen system doesn’t account for them and often times, neither do the networks. While fans and even execs like to point fingers at illegal downloading when it comes to low ratings, the fact is that statistically speaking illegal downloading really isn’t prevalent enough to affect a show’s ratings. It would be like a cat pinning an elephant to the ground. I state this point, of course, not to justify illegal downloading but rather to point out the reality of its impact.
So why move a show with steady ratings from its favored Friday night spot to Monday nights where it will, at least for now, have to compete with such ratings giants as ABC’s Castle? The answer is simple, clearly the Smackdown fans aren’t tuning in to watch Sanctuary and many SGU fans do. With SGU‘s final three episodes airing shortly, SyFy is going to need an already established original series to fill in that time slot.
Given that Sanctuary was the only sci-fi series running on Sci-Fi Fridays, it doesn’t make much sense to keep the show on at that time. If the SyFy Channel were going to bump Smackdown to another night (which would never happen due to the high ratings) and add more of their original sci-fi programming to Friday nights it would make sense to keep up with the long running Sci-Fi Fridays. However, the ratings for Smackdown are double that of Sanctuary so the decision to move the show became an easy one.
One advantage to the Monday night move regards the strange way SyFy structures their seasons. Many of SyFy’s popular shows air both during the summer and during what would be considered “down time” on the major networks, while avoiding events like the annual January sweeps. With top competitors like Castle going on hiatus soon, Nathan Fillion fans may find themselves filling the void by tuning in to Sanctuary. It’s a bold and risky strategy on SyFy’s part, but one that has worked for them in the past with shows like Warehouse 13 and Eureka.
“Sci-Fi Mondays” might not have the same ring to it as “Sci-Fi Fridays” but it’s an adjustment that hopefully fans will embrace. According to tvbythenumbers.com, SyFy already regularly fails to make the list of Top 25 Cable Shows. For example, for the week ending April 17, 2011, the number one and two spots went to The History Channel’s Pawn Stars which aired two new episodes that week. There were, once again, no SyFy shows on the list, including Smackdown. The WWE’s sister show airing on the USA network, however, garnered 5th and 6th place spots.
It’s understandable that SyFy would want to keep what is sure to be a great deal of ad revenue that’s coming in from WWE: Smackdown on Friday nights. What would make even more sense was if they were to air something after it that would also pull in the high ratings. Taking Sanctuary‘s coveted post Smackdown spot is Urban Legends, which I am surprised to hear is in its third season. This under advertised and mysterious three season show is perhaps benign enough to keep Smackdown fans tuned in. Sanctuary may have just been too sci-fi for them. The concept of Urban Legends, which very closely mirrors the old Jonathan Frakes’ show Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction, likely speaks to a broader demographic and is therefore a logical chaser to the pageantry of Smackdown. In the long run, more ad revenue means more money and more money means more original programming for science fiction fans.
So never fear loyal Sanctuary fans. While this may mean the end of our beloved Sci-Fi Fridays, the moving of Sanctuary to Monday nights does not mean a death sentence for the show. On the contrary, with SyFy’s strange season schedule contrasting with the regular schedule of the major networks, we may just see more people tuning in.
Sanctuary airs Monday nights at 10/9 c. on SyFy.