By Karen Moul
At last week’s digital press tour, Syfy executives Dave Howe, Alan Seiffert, and Craig Engler discussed the network’s plans to diversify across multiple entertainment platforms. It’s all part of Syfy Ventures, the network's business development and enterprise unit that focuses on next generation brand extension, including both media and non-media properties.
In a panel with journalists, Howe described the Syfy's plans "to create 24/7 immersive, dynamic storytelling experiences so that we can create transmedia IP characters and stories that can live on any platform, not just the cable linear TV platform." What does that mean to Syfy fans? How about gaming, apparel, and even a new channel for kids?
Syfy’s gaming projects are already well underway, with a close eye on storytelling. “In the gaming space,” said Seiffert, “we've really focused on what possible stories are out there that can really satisfy the needs of our audience but also still offer content in a very unique way. And in a way that is very appropriate for Syfy.”
First up is a two-hour TV movie (and perhaps an eventual series) based on THQ's Red Faction, the popular first-person shooter set on Mars. "Red Faction was a great shoot-'em-up -- it's a really exciting console game,” said Sieffert. “What's unique about it is the movie and hopefully the series will actually live between the last game and the next game. So it becomes part of the overall mythology.”
Down the road, Syfy looks forward to an online browser game based on Battlestar Galactica, which is set to debut in December. Also in the works is a partnership with game developer Trion World to create an online game that would also become a Syfy TV series.
Future plans also call for Syfy to reach out to kids ages 8 to 12 across multiple platforms. "Kids aren't just watching TV," said Seiffert. "They're not just engaging in playing toys. And they're not just online. They're doing all of that. So…we're not going to approach it just as another television show. Absolutely, there will be TV...but there also will be gaming. There will be toys. There will be a pretty massive and exciting online world. The idea is let's bring these stories, let's bring these experiences in a meaningful way across platforms because that's where kids are."
Finally, the executives discussed Syfy's efforts to reach out to female fans through branded apparel, jewelry, and other gear. More information about that is available in the next article.
For more details on Syfy Ventures, read the complete panel transcript below.
Syfy Digital Press Tour
October 11, 2010
Syfy Ventures panel:
Dave Howe, President, Syfy
Alan Seiffert, SVP, Syfy Ventures
Craig Engler, SVP and GM, Syfy Digital
Ashley Eckstein, President, Her Universe
Moderator: Mark Stern, EVP Original Content, Syfy, and Co-head, Universal Cable Productions
MARK STERN: So we have something a little different right now, which is, with our rebrand we've actually created a new venture called, appropriately, Syfy Ventures, which is actually an in-house initiative of ours. So I'm going to bring up our group that's doing that. I guess first up, Dave Howe, who you know well; Alan Seiffert; Craig Engler...
DAVE HOWE: Moderate yourself since you're on this panel as well.
MARK STERN: So, Dave, when are you going to give all of us raises?
DAVE HOWE: Depends how this panel goes.
MARK STERN: Okay.
CRAIG ENGLER: No pressure, Mark --
MARK STERN: Good answer.
CRAIG ENGLER: -- but that one's for the team. So do well.
MARK STERN: And Alan is the senior VP of Syfy Ventures, and Craig is, as I think most of you already know, SVP and general manager of our digital.
DAVE HOWE: Our head of tweeting.
CRAIG ENGLER: Head tweeter.
MARK STERN: Head tweeter. So let's start, Mr. Howe, with you, which is what is Syfy Ventures, and why do we need it?
DAVE HOWE: I think Syfy Ventures, the timing is right for us to attempt this. I think as long as I've been at Syfy, which is almost nine years now, we have felt that as a brand and as a business, a little confined by just being a linear cable TV network. And by the end of this year, Syfy will be in, I think, 65 territories around the globe, which makes us a global brand. And I think the next challenge for us is to become a global lifestyle brand. What I mean by that is figuring out how we can leverage this business and create new businesses, new adjacent businesses in areas that we know our fan base and audience base is interested in. We have this very pre/early-adopter, tech-savvy audience that is very into technology, that is into video gaming, that is into entertainment of all descriptions, and is interested in all things digital. And I think that what that creates for us is this ability to create 24/7 immersive, dynamic storytelling experiences so that we can create transmedia IP characters and stories that can live on any platform, not just the cable linear TV platform.
And that, in essence, is what Syfy Ventures is about. How do we create that IP collectively, and how do we launch new businesses in video gaming, in technology, in licensing and merchandising in gear, in potentially a kids' business? Because there's a huge gap in the market and a huge audience that we're currently not catering towards. And we're taking the first kind of baby steps in terms of building those businesses to the point at which I think we'll have a much stronger business going forward as the whole digital landscape opens up. So that was long-winded, but there you have it.
MARK STERN: Let me just take a moment and say what a brilliant and insightful answer that was, Dave --
-- and how much in awe I am of you and your intelligence.
DAVE HOWE: Fantastic.
MARK STERN: Thank you so much.
ALAN SEIFFERT: Raise is coming. Raise is coming.
MARK STERN: I learned so much just right there.
DAVE HOWE: Now just make it happen.
MARK STERN: Now, Alan --
Look to your left when you say that.
So, Alan, how are we going to make that happen?
ALAN SEIFFERT: Well, as Dave said, we're really focused on some kind of key categories. And one of the ways that we do that is we really try to, wherever possible, kind of find great partnerships, find great product that will really bring Syfy beyond TV. So some of the things, as Dave said, that we've really been kind of focused on over this past year has been gaming. So in the gaming space, we've really focused on what possible stories are out there that can really satisfy the needs of our audience but also still offer content in a very unique way. And in a way that is very appropriate for Syfy. So we've previously announced an online browser game for Battlestar, which will be coming out in December. And that's a great example of, instead of just doing a classic, typical Battlestar game, which, as those of you who are in gaming know, it's very common for games to be just some project, some IP slapped onto a game. What we did in that instance was we really looked at "Well, what's really unique about Battlestar, and how can we kind of add some value or tap into what really makes sense about that property?"
And so with our partner Bigpoint out of Germany, we're launching with them a pretty exciting game. And what's really cool about it is it's an online browser-based game, but what's really interesting is that we've actually kind of added some additional elements to it. So there's some new IP. There is new IP that still lives within Battlestar. So that's been a big, big focus for us.
The other area that -- in the gaming space that's probably the most exciting for us is we have a partnership with a group called Trion. Trion World is a very innovative, exciting online game company. What we're doing there is we're actually, with them from the ground up, building a multiplatform story. And that story is going to live on an online game and live in a TV series. So this is scheduled for probably late 2011. So in that project the first step was can we identify a partner who, like us, is really trying to be innovative, really trying to kind of reach the audience in a clever, unique way. And then also what we did was we said, "Well, is there a great story?" So we, with your team, Mark, really sat down, and Trion and your team really are just building this so that the experience will be a gaming experience, which by itself will be a great game, but on top of that, you'll be able to really enjoy and really kind of get some more depth and more -- get more color to the overall story through your series. So Trion is another just great, great, great project for us.
And the most immediate one before Trion and then actually after Battlestar is with THQ. We've partnered with them to focus again not on taking an existing game and kind of turning it into a show, but instead finding some interesting games, some interesting stories that happen to live in a game and add to it. So Red Faction was a great shoot-'em-up -- it's a really exciting console game. We are actually doing a two-hour movie which hopefully will turn into a series for Red Faction. And what's unique about it is the movie and hopefully the series will actually live between the last game and the next game. So it becomes part of the overall mythology. So those are some examples in gaming that, as Dave said, we're really just trying to approach it differently. We're really trying to find great narratives.
MARK STERN: Cool. Craig, in terms of digital and online, how do you extend that out into your world?
CRAIG ENGLER: We kind of have this two-prong approach, which I talk a lot about and some of you in the room may have heard me talk about before, is when we're working with shows and existing IP from the network, we try to extend and support that. I think Battlestar still to this day remains one of our biggest series in terms of all the many things we did for that. There were three Web series, and there was a social network, and there's iPhone apps and all that kind of stuff. But also, if you like science fiction, you tend to like three other things: You like gaming, which we talked about. You also tend to like technology. And you like entertainment of all kinds. You don't just watch science fiction shows; you watch all kinds of TV shows. So we really try to extend the brand online into those areas. We have a sort of miniblog network where we have Blastr, which was formerly named Syfy Wire, which is basically entertainment news about science fiction, fantasy, horror. We have DVice, which is a technology site where we really try to look at the future of technology. There's a lot of technology blogs out there, so our tact is to sort of look at what's kind of coming down the pike. And we do a lot of concept -- we focus on a lot of concept things or a lot of things where technology is going to impact culture sometime in the near future.
We also extend onto other platforms. So we were just down in San Francisco talking to Apple and Google about what we can do in terms of iPhone and iPad apps and Android apps. I don't know if you all know, but we have about eight iPhone apps right now, and they range from kind of silly -- there's a Cylon bobblehead, which is free that you guys can get -- and then kind of serious. Both Blastr and DVice have iPhone and iPad apps. We're just -- on the IOS platform for mobile, we do something like 7 million pages a month just from two blogs of ours. So it's a great platform for us.
We're actually looking at extending into those areas.
We're also -- we have soft launch, and we're going to be hard launching. We have a paid fan club online where essentially superfans of the network can join, and they can get more in-depth stuff from the network, behind-the-scenes stuff, first looks at things. I think when we did the Caprica screening in L.A., they got some exclusive invitations before the general public did. But really sort of technology, gaming, and entertainment is the sweet spot for us and mostly how it relates to men 18 to 49.
MARK STERN: I will say that we did this Caprica Twitter event that was really successful, and it was really impressive to me. We were talking about this at dinner last night. The power of Twitter and the "You tell two friends, and they tell 150,000 friends, and so on and so on" is really unbelievable when you really start to look at that cumulatively in terms of what that can do. And I think that's something that -- it seems like it's been around forever, but really it's relatively recently.
Alan, in terms of kids and Syfy Kids, what is our strategy for that, and how do you differentiate that from maybe the other kids' brands that are already out there, like Nick and --
ALAN SEIFFERT: The Hub and --
MARK STERN: Yeah, exactly.
ALAN SEIFFERT: -- some of the new ones. Well, you know, just as with the adult channel, Syfy offers something different. We offer something that is targeted, unique. There's a very specific brand. So what we look at is can we offer a very similar aesthetic, a very similar brand approach to kids? What makes us different is that no one is really aggregating science fiction, fantasy, superheroes. So what we can really do is we can offer up this content. And the other way that it's somewhat unique is that, kids aren't just watching TV. They're not just engaging in playing toys. And they're not just online. They're doing all of that. So Syfy Kids, for us, is unique in that we're not going to approach it just as another television show. Absolutely, there will be TV, and that's a key part of it. But there also will be gaming. There will be toys. There will be a pretty massive and exciting online world. The idea is let's bring these stories, let's bring these experiences in a meaningful way across platforms because that's where kids are.
QUESTION: Yes, over here. Earlier you were talking about the deal with THQ and Red Faction. Is there a long-term plan to where Syfy could become their own game publisher? ALAN SEIFFERT: Yes, in the sense that we have – we have launched our Syfy games brand. And yes, we will be publishing games. The only reason I'm hedging is that the way that we look at it is, just as in television and just as some of the other projects that we've talked about, we're not necessarily kind of keeping to the same traditional lines. So we will be involved in gaming. And part of the reason is it's a great way to tell stories. It absolutely is appropriate for our key audience. Whether that is a traditional publishing arrangement, I'm not quite sure. But Craig and his team have a thriving Syfy games online presence. We have strong partnerships coming up. We've got a few other announcements over the next several months. So we are very much in this space. But the key for us, and whether it's Her Universe or it's gaming or it's kids -- even we talk about gear. It's about the story. It's about the storytelling. And so that's going to be the ultimate driver.
QUESTION: Referring to the Syfy Kids, what kind of -- it seems like a no-brainer to hook them while they're young, but what ages are you looking for? Are you looking for the younger kids and the tweens? And also, do you have any kind of programming already in mind for them that you can tell us about?
DAVE HOWE: We can't tell you any specifics right now --
-- although we will be developing --
ALAN SEIFFERT: We so want to right now, but we can't.
DAVE HOWE: I think the sweet spot for us in terms of kids is 8 to 12s. I think the younger kids are super served and not necessarily as easy to target. And I think once you get beyond 12, then you're in the very, very fierce kids' space that a lot of other networks are working in. But I think the key to this, as Alan said, is we really want to be smart about digital technology and about creating IP that is designed to live across these various platforms. And that applies to all of our businesses. I think we don't really want to be in the business of retrofitting anything. So although you may see existing properties that we will develop, primarily we're interested in great partnerships with companies out there that are specialists and experts in their field that want to work with us to create these new transmedia properties. And the same will be true of the kids' space. So, we may not be rushing to launch a linear kids' network, for instance. We want to tap into other ways to reach kids in a sort of digital interactive way. So I think, as Alan said, there are going to be a lot more announcements coming up in the near future. I think from a company perspective -- and this applies to gaming, as well as to kids -- there is a recognition within both NBC Universal and actually within Comcast, when that deal closes hopefully by the end of year, that both video gaming and kids are underserved by the company as a whole. So I think this is -- both of these will become priorities for the new company going forward, which makes it very exciting. And I think what Syfy has is a unique, differentiated brand that stands for something, which actually sets us apart from our competitors. I think that's an important competitive advantage that we really do want to be able to exploit going forward.
QUESTION: You said that you're going to do a Syfy Kids. Are you thinking about doing some teenage series, particularly maybe with a female teenage heroine?
CRAIG ENGLER: Very specific demo right there.
DAVE HOWE: I think 8 to 12s is where we're going to start.
ALAN SEIFFERT: Yeah, I mean, just in terms of overall strategy, there is a market opportunity. 8 to 12, 6 to 12, there is -- there are a lot of people wanting to go into that space. So the way that we would look at it is yes, we'll be targeting that space. We would deliver excellent content. But then those kids grow up, so we would then grow with them. But in terms of coming out the door with a teen approach, I'm not sure that's actually the best approach. See, the other thing that we have a real advantage is that we have a ton of parents who watch.
ALAN SEIFFERT: And so we think that tapping into the parents and to the slightly younger than teenage is actually the best way to really build a strong groundswell.
MARK STERN: Okay. That's our last question. Once again, I just want to say what a fantastic panel I thought this was.