Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The genre is sci-fi. The business model is fantasy.

One of the hallmarks of a bubble is the strange inversion of perceived risk. You get to a point where, for the people driving the bubble, the pain and anxiety of loss associated with missing out grow overwhelming. The only seemingly rational course of action is to do what ever it takes to get into the game. No matter how onerous the terms, no matter how many treasured possessions you need to hock, no matter how far you need to overextend yourself, the sensible course is to invest as much as you can.

Obviously, there are situations where "getting there the fastest with the mostest" is the best strategy, but even then, the smart investor or executive will at least acknowledge the inevitable point when blank checks will need to give way to caution. When the assumption that more spending is always better becomes axiomatic, the smart money starts backing toward the door.

Which brings us to a recent story from io9.

We were early to the party when it came to talking about the possibility of a content bubble. The basic idea is that while, even allowing for multiple screens (I've got two running myself at the moment), the competition for viewers has gotten brutal between cable and satellite, pay-per-view, streaming video, and our old friend digital terrestrial broadcasting. (We won't even get into games.) In particular, the share allotted to cable and satellite has been steadily shrinking, so that even allowing for population growth and the opening of international markets, this sector is, at best, holding its own.

At the same time, the amount of programming, particularly original scripted programming, has exploded. On top of this, there is something of a bidding war so that increased supply is actually met with spiraling prices. Obviously, this does not mean that investing big bucks in a TV series or the broadcast rights to a major movie franchise is necessarily a bad idea, but it does mean that the decision to open up the checkbook carries notable risks in the middle of a bubble.

What's so troubling about the following from a business perspective is that NBC Universal Cable Entertainment’s President of Entertainment, Chris McCumber doesn't even seem to consider the possibility.

Of course, all of that is window dressing compared what Syfy will actually put up on screens. McCumber said the goal was to go back to high-end, scripted television, with four focuses: space and scifi, fantasy, paranormal and supernatural, and superheroes and comics.

The Expanse and The Magicians are clearly the network’s flagship returning shows, mentioned many times and with pictures all over the presentations. For new projects, it was announced Tuesday night that Happy!, the adaptation of a Grant Morrison comic starring Christopher Meloni that was announced last year, will get a full season. Similarly, the Superman prequel Krypton has a full series order.

The channel has also paid a historic sum of money for Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It’s going to have some of the Marvel movies on it. Syfy wants to be the home of everyone’s content, in some way or another.

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