OK - I think we need to start a pool. How long until a major network takes a well-loved but under-viewed show and sticks it on Kickstarter?— C. Glen Williams (@DoctorHu) October 18, 2012
I posted this tweet earlier today half-jokingly. But the more I think about it, the more it seems like an inevitability.
Over the years, fans have fallen in love with a number of cult series only to see those series cancelled by a network that ultimately has to consider monetary realities. Relatively expensive genres like science fiction and fantasy have been hardest hit, although some daring sitcoms and dramas (like, say, “Community”) have wound up in the same spot.
Often these shows wind up monetizing once they’re off television, whether through DVD and digital sales, foreign market sales, or merchandising agreements. Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” was slow to catch its audience, but it continues to be a major seller on DVD and blu-ray with merchandise (both official and unofficial) flying out of online stores as fast as it can be created.
Even the much-maligned “Heroes” turned a more-than-modest profit once DVD, iTunes, and foreign market sales were calculated together with its ad revenue (so much so that its cancellation came as a shock to much of the cast, even though they were aware of their declining American audience).
Clearly, the shows are not failing due to a lack of passion on the part of their fans. Nor are they failing due to their fans’ unwillingness to open their wallets. The problem is getting the advertisers to give the networks their money up front.
Outlets like Kickstarter offer networks an opportunity that they will eventually find too good to pass up — the opportunity to double-dip. The audience that now writes letters to save its favorite show can be tapped to pony up $10, $20, or even $50 or $100 apiece if they’re guaranteed to see a new season. Some might even bid higher if the incentive was right. And incentives can be set visits, autographed photos, props, costume pieces, phone calls from the actors, or any number of easy-to-provide baubles. Crowdfunding a show doesn’t mean that the network has to give a share of their profits away to their new “investors.”
Then, once the network has collected money up front from the fans, they turn around and sell the show once more to advertisers. The money from the fans offsets the cost of producing a new season enough that a moderately profitable show (or one that barely breaks even) can suddenly become wildly profitable.
On top of that, advertisers will now be faced with actual numbers of how many people support a show to the point that they will actually open up their wallets to save it. Not to mention what happens when a network puts forth a project that has that rare x-factor, the “Amanda Palmer Overdrive” that causes it to raise much more than 100% of its goal. The visions of 200, 400, or 800% funded shows dancing in their heads are enough to drive television executives crazy (or, at least, crazier).
And when a project lacks the Amanda Palmer Overdrive — when it’s just too cult to survive and falls short of its funding, networks still come out the winners. Turning to crowdfunding puts a degree between executives and the failure of a show.
Disappointed when NBC cancels “Community?” It’s not their fault. They tried to raise funds to keep it on the air, but the fan support just wasn’t there — the Kickstarter only ever reached 68%. The heartless executive axing shows before they find their audience is suddenly a caricature out of the past. Cult shows now live or die on the motivation of their fan base.
Considering all of that, why wouldn’t a network turn to crowdfunding?