Amazon May Save The Expanse, and All Networks Should Take Note
After cancelation and a huge fan-led campaign, Amazon may save The Expanse and could teach networks a lesson in the process.
Update 5/29: After several days of negotiations, Amazon has officially agreed to give The Expanse a new home on Amazon Prime. The news came from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos himself, who announced the show’s new status at a meeting of the National Space Society. To give fans even more reason to rejoice, Bezos went on to say that “[The Expanse] will be a Prime orginal in the coming seasons,” not just season.
Original Article 5/22: After being canceled by the SyFy Channel, The Expanse, one of the top reviewed (if not watched) sci-fi shows on TV may live on thanks to Amazon. The deal is not yet done (despite a few headlines to the contrary), but multiple sources have confirmed that negotiations are underway.
Even if the negotiations fall through (which would be a huge blow to fans of the show and good sci-fi everywhere), there are a lot of lessons that can be taken from the show’s cancelation and what happened next. Whether or not studios and networks listen, however, is another question entirely.
To start with, networks can no longer ignore the changes in their industry. For SyFy Channel, it was almost inevitable that it would cancel The Expanse sooner or later, mainly because they negotiated a terrible deal. To be fair, Alcon Entertainment – the group that owns The Expanse and is currently negotiating with Amazon – didn’t help them out much, but you can’t blame creators for wanting to own their creation. Besides, SyFy Channel’s problems run deeper than The Expanse.
When SyFy first announced that it was canceling The Expanse, it wasn’t long before the deal the network initially struck for the show came under scrutiny – and with good reason. SyFy was part of a bidding war to secure the show, and when it did win it committed a significant amount of money to each episode. That’s great to ensure the quality of the show, but SyFy also decided not to pursue the subscription video on demand (SVOD) or international rights to the show.
By ignoring these markets, SyFy put a huge amount of emphasis on live viewing numbers only. That would have made sense five to ten years ago, but modern audiences like to have options when it comes to how and when they want to watch TV shows, and SyFy limited those options. New episodes of The Expanse are only available to purchase (on services like Amazon and iTunes), through SyFy’s website/app (which requires a cable TV subscription anyway), or when they finally make it to SVOD services up to a year after they first aired.
Beyond simply offering more viewers more ways to watch – including cord cutters – part of what makes a series like The Expanse so engaging is that it is heavily serialized. You can’t just jump in midway and hope to understand what’s going on, and if you miss an episode that airs live – god forbid you don’t have access to a TV for one week – with SyFy’s current model, you are screwed. You are at the mercy of their repeats or their glitchy SyFy app, or you have to pay for the ep of a show you are already paying for with a cable subscription. It’s like you are paying a fine for having the audacity to miss one week of a show you like. And if you’ve missed more than one episode, that cost jumps significantly.
Given that The Expanse is serialized, it also makes it a natural fit for binge watching. And like many shows with relatively short seasons (season three is a solid 13 episodes), waiting for the full season to finish and then watching all episodes at once is something many people will do. But given SyFy’s reliance on live numbers only and its lack of SVOD rights, fans that want to do this are actively hurting the show. That’s a terrible and shortsighted position for a network to put its fans in. And there’s evidence that many fans would have done exactly this.
The numbers for The Expanse were down this year compared to the first two seasons, but the passion for it was not. Immediately after the news of the cancelation came, a #SaveTheExpanse campaign launched, earning over 130,000 signatures and crowdfunding an airline banner that flew over Amazon’s headquarters, featuring the plea to “Save The Expanse.” Fans are passionate and they are not quiet.
SyFy Channel made a bad deal, one that put it in a hole from the very start. The Expanse is an expensive show to make, so any indication of diminishing numbers raised red flags for it, even if there are extenuating circumstances. Barring near-record setting numbers for viewers on SyFy, the show was always going to be in a difficult spot, and even the less expensive shows with bigger audiences SyFy airs – shows like The Magicians and Happy! – are missing huge potential audiences because the network doesn’t have a good plan for SVOD. And as cord cutters grow, that is only going to get worse.
As for The Expanse, the deal with Amazon is far from done. SyFy’s lack of interest in the SVOD rights has left a complicated quagmire that needs to be untangled. And unlike SyFy, Amazon is well aware of the need to secure those rights. The way it currently shakes out, Amazon does currently own the North American rights to the show, which means that if it does save The Expanse it will have all the episodes in one place for U.S. and Canadian audiences. The international rights, however, belong to Netflix.
Still, sources seem to be optimistic about a deal being struck. The fact that it is far enough along that people are leaking that there are even negotiations at all is a very good sign, plus Amazon wanted The Expanse before SyFy won the rights. According to THR, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is a fan of The Expanse books and was “livid” when Amazon lost out on the rights. That loss was one of the motivating factors to Amazon’s recent push into high-quality, big-budget genre TV, in an effort to create the next Game of Thrones.
Assuming there aren’t unforeseen complications if Bezos is still on board and still a fan of The Expanse, it seems likely that a deal will be reached. Plus, on top of taking possession of a show that should be in the conversation for awards each year, Amazon will also earn a fair amount of goodwill from fans. When it comes to TV networks, goodwill is frequently in short demand.
And is goodwill is something SyFy Channel is in short supply of. Hopefully other networks will learn from its mistakes.