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View Full Version : Would a real fan-oriented SF channel be viable?


BrainGlutton
12-09-2006, 01:10 PM
Inspired by this (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showpost.php?p=8040009&postcount=39) post and this (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showpost.php?p=8040139&postcount=40) post in this (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=398807) Pit thread.

OK, so maybe the Sci-Fi Channel doesn't really consider SF fans its "target audience." That would explain a lot. But are there enough SF fans to make up a "target audience" that could support a commercial TV network?

Revenant Threshold
12-09-2006, 01:18 PM
Yes and no.

There are certainly enough sci-fi fans to support a channel. But we're a fickle and divisive bunch, so I doubt you could get a programming list together without giving offense to one group of fans or another. And any act of changing the schedule would be met with suspicion and hostility. I doubt it'd last long.

Elysium
12-09-2006, 01:40 PM
I'm thinking no. Any die-hard fanbase is a bit insular, and the whole point of a network is to continually grow new viewers. I can imagine that the growth potential is just not there. I think this has been mentioned around here before in various threads as the reason why the SF Channel no longer caters to its original target audience. There just isn't a lot of growth unless you change your programming to bring in the "average" viewer.

RealityChuck
12-09-2006, 01:47 PM
I doubt it. It's a relatively small group (compared to the numbers needed to support the Sci-Fi channel as basic cable) and seems to be shrinking. The demographics might help, but a network made up solely of science fiction classics isn't going to work in the long run. It's hard enough to decide what is a classic in the first place (and there will be plenty of disagreement of any choice), and even more difficult to get the rights to them.

BrainGlutton
12-09-2006, 02:08 PM
I doubt it. It's a relatively small group (compared to the numbers needed to support the Sci-Fi channel as basic cable) and seems to be shrinking.

:eek: Whoa! Cite?!

It's hard enough to decide what is a classic in the first place (and there will be plenty of disagreement of any choice), and even more difficult to get the rights to them.

Classic SF (and fantasy, and horror) films and TV shows would be a part of such a station's after-midnight programming (as they are on the SciFi Channel now -- well, TV shows, at least), but I was thinking more of a network that would feature:

(1) Original SF programming that does not provoke eye-rolling or MST2K reactions among serious SF fans.

(2) A very small amount of programming about SF fandom as such -- documentary coverage of conventions, Hugo and Nebula awards, interviews with authors, latest fanfeuds, filking -- perhaps just one weekly half-hour show, called "This Week in Fandom" or "Locus TV" or something.

(3) Nothing whatsoever that doesn't belong. E.g., no professional wrestling, no phony psychics, no ghostbusters, no unexplained-phenomena crap. There's some overlap between SF fans and people who think we've been visited by Reticulian Greys in flying saucers, but it's a relatively small Boolean intersection.

Wendell Wagner
12-09-2006, 02:11 PM
I think the closest analogy is Book TV on C-Span 2 on weekends. It consists entirely of discussions of books. It's got author readings and discussions from bookstores, interviews with authors, lectures by authors at universities and book festivals. It has an audience but only a fairly small one. It exists only because C-Span is a non-commercial production. The three C-Span channels were created by a consortium of cable providers to demonstrate to the FCC that they were "public-minded." C-Span provides all the sessions of Congress and many subcommittee meetings as well.

I don't know how you would make that model work for science-fiction fandom TV.

BrainGlutton
12-09-2006, 02:29 PM
I think the closest analogy is Book TV on C-Span 2 on weekends. It consists entirely of discussions of books. It's got author readings and discussions from bookstores, interviews with authors, lectures by authors at universities and book festivals. It has an audience but only a fairly small one. It exists only because C-Span is a non-commercial production. The three C-Span channels were created by a consortium of cable providers to demonstrate to the FCC that they were "public-minded." C-Span provides all the sessions of Congress and many subcommittee meetings as well.

I don't know how you would make that model work for science-fiction fandom TV.

I wasn't thinking of anything like that, except perhaps on a half-hour-per-week basis, see above.

Exapno Mapcase
12-09-2006, 03:07 PM
:eek: Whoa! Cite?!
Are you kidding? Chuck and I are professional sf writers and active in the field. The field is dying a not-so-slow death. Despite Harry Potter's success, the audience for the field has been aging at about one year per year for decades with only the tiniest bit of new blood entering. Movie and tv tie-ins, gaming tie-ins, paranormal romance, and perhaps high fantasy is holding its own or growing, but classic sf is almost as close to dead as the western. The major magazines are mostly down under 20,000 circulation from a high of 100,000 in the 1980s.

No estimation of the fan base for sf, even if you throw in fantasy, has even gone into the millions. Most numbers are well below that. You can't assume that more than 1 in 10 of any base would follow a network in total, and obviously far less for any given show. That would put viewership into the tens of thousands at peak.

You need hundreds of thousands or low millions to make programming viable.

Most places don't support a single show on the community cable channel. A channel of its own would be orders of magnitude impossible for funding. There's not a chance that even a nutty billionaire could make it work.

John DiFool
12-09-2006, 05:16 PM
Starting a new thread based on Exapno's thesis...

RealityChuck
12-09-2006, 05:45 PM
The yearly Locus polls tell the tale: the average age of the SF fan base ages almost one year per year. It's been an issue within fandom since the 80s, where things seemed to peak. But there are fewer SF magazines each year, and there hasn't been a successful major one since Asimov's (which began in 1977). Right now there are about four major SF/fantasy short fiction markets (Asimov's, F&SF, Analog, and Realms of Fantasy), and their circulation is dropping.

There are also various levels of fandom. True SF fandom -- defined as those who go to SF cons -- is clearly declining. Convention attendance is down, and its always the same group of people.

But convention fandom was always too small to support the Sci-Fi channel. The largest worldcon attendance was 8000 or so at Lacon in 1984, and that was inflated because they were running the entire Star Wars Trilogy: some people bought memberships solely to see the movies. If you multiply that number twentyfold, it's unnoticeable in TV ratings.

Readers of SF -- a bigger group overall -- are also shrinking. People don't read as much as they used to; the people who would have become fans in the 50s and 60s are playing video games or hanging out on the Internet. And, again, even in the best of times, the number of SF readers was only a small subset of all readers -- and, again, there total number of fiction books sold in the US is unlikely to be close to the lowest-rated TV show.

Exapno has outlined it well.

BrainGlutton
12-11-2006, 11:17 AM
Are you kidding? Chuck and I are professional sf writers and active in the field. The field is dying a not-so-slow death. Despite Harry Potter's success, the audience for the field has been aging at about one year per year for decades with only the tiniest bit of new blood entering. Movie and tv tie-ins, gaming tie-ins, paranormal romance, and perhaps high fantasy is holding its own or growing, but classic sf is almost as close to dead as the western. The major magazines are mostly down under 20,000 circulation from a high of 100,000 in the 1980s.


The yearly Locus polls tell the tale: the average age of the SF fan base ages almost one year per year. It's been an issue within fandom since the 80s, where things seemed to peak. But there are fewer SF magazines each year, and there hasn't been a successful major one since Asimov's (which began in 1977). Right now there are about four major SF/fantasy short fiction markets (Asimov's, F&SF, Analog, and Realms of Fantasy), and their circulation is dropping.

There are also various levels of fandom. True SF fandom -- defined as those who go to SF cons -- is clearly declining. Convention attendance is down, and its always the same group of people.

:( This is depressing . . .

Gridnak
12-11-2006, 02:38 PM
There are also various levels of fandom. True SF fandom -- defined as those who go to SF cons -- is clearly declining. Convention attendance is down, and its always the same group of people.

Readers of SF -- a bigger group overall -- are also shrinking. People don't read as much as they used to; the people who would have become fans in the 50s and 60s are playing video games or hanging out on the Internet. And, again, even in the best of times, the number of SF readers was only a small subset of all readers -- and, again, there total number of fiction books sold in the US is unlikely to be close to the lowest-rated TV show.Are you seeing a decline in your ability to get things published? If so, as BG said, this is truely depressing. I'm not a "true fan" based on your definition above, but I'm a pretty voracious reader and SciFi is one of my main staples. The thought of it dying off...:eek:

BrainGlutton
12-11-2006, 03:02 PM
Are you seeing a decline in your ability to get things published? If so, as BG said, this is truely depressing. I'm not a "true fan" based on your definition above, but I'm a pretty voracious reader and SciFi is one of my main staples. The thought of it dying off...:eek:

See these (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=399438) threads. (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=399656)

Tangent
12-11-2006, 08:12 PM
Would a real fan-oriented SF channel be viable?

IIRC, SciFi was a real fan-oriented channel when it first started out. Mostly airing SF series and movies. Then they saw the opportunity to expand their audience and pull in more ad revenue by airing crap like Scare Tactics, Ghost Hunters, and now, sadly, professional wrestling.

The same thing happened to TLC. Those letters once stood for "The Learning Channel" and that was descriptive of their programming for a couple of years. Then "Trading Spaces" happened and home decorating series quickly pushed out all of the educational programs they used to show.

I'll wager that if a "real" SF channel started up today, it would become very similar to SciFi within a few years.

Gridnak
12-11-2006, 10:18 PM
See these (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=399438) threads. (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=399656)
Yep, I saw those which is why I was interested if Exapno and RC had seen this trend translate into it being harder for them to get pulished. Or did that get mentioned in one of the other threads and I missed it?