Why Syfy is experimenting with 3D printing

Syfy wants to explore how emerging technology from virtual reality to 3D printing could enhance its TV programming.

The NBCUniversal-owned cable network has launched Syfy Labs, a new group within its 13-person digital team dedicated to testing such new technology.

“You look at a show like ‘The Expanse’; it’s an hour long, and it airs once a week. There are six days and 23 more hours in the week that we have to get people to interact with it,” said Matthew Chiavelli, svp of Syfy Digital.

Syfy Labs has several projects in the works, including a partnership with 3D printing company MakerBot to offer printable files of 3D models of various items in Syfy programming. Fans of space thriller “The Expanse” can download models of spaceships from the show. The network last month released a virtual reality app for “The Expanse” that allows viewers to tour the spaceships and other settings. It also has a partnership with the Philips Hue smart-home lighting system, which can be synced to “The Expanse,” “12 Monkeys” and the upcoming “Sharknado 4.”

These are not intended to be gimmicks, according to Chiavelli. “We’re cautious of not doing tech for tech’s sake,” he said, adding it was too early to share participation figures.

The network has previously done one-offs that have been experiments more than anything else. Syfy-owned science fiction news site Blastr.com’s added Apple Watch compatibility.

Syfy 3D Printing
Printable 3D models by Syfy for “The Expanse”

Chiavelli said the production team for Syfy’s upcoming alien drama “Hunters” even made an alien skull available for people to print out.

While its initial VR effort with “The Expanse” is experiential — similar to what other networks and studios from Discovery to Fox have done with the technology — the network is also interested in doing narrative VR projects. It has an eye to making money off these endeavors, of course. Philips is paying to be part of the smart heating system project, and all VR projects are available for sponsorship, although Syfy hasn’t yet sold one. The 3D printer initiative is looking to connect the brand with the small but passionate community of 3D printing types.

“We don’t want to just stick to niche areas, but sometimes you have to go niche to do something that hasn’t been done,” said Chiavelli.

Image via Syfy