Craig Engler is the svp and general manager of SyFy digital. During his tenure at the NBCU cable network, SyFy has been among the most aggressive digital players from the TV world (its core demographic practically screams for it). SyFy has experimented with Webisodes for hits like Battlestar Gallactica, worked to make shows more interactive with technologies like Shazam, launched social games via Facebook connect, and rolled out multiple brand extentions — including the gamer-oriented Dvice.com and the SyFy-pop culture blog Blastr.com. Just a few weeks ago, SyFy.com introduced the original series The Mercury Men, a nourish, black and white show inspired by old movie serials.
Broadcast networks, including NBC, have been pulling back from original Web content. SyFy has done some originals tied to series like Battlestar Gallactica. And now you are doing an original series, The Mercury Men. Why?
For us, original online video is about being smart and opportunistic, not about spending huge amounts of money or manpower. Right now there’s a lot of high-quality work being produced online so we don’t need to be producers ourselves. We can partner with people already out there and bring our marketing and distribution expertise to the equation, and everyone benefits. It’s a case where 1+1=3.
Are we going to see more like this? What are the financial realities right now for these type of shows?
Yes, we have more deals for series in the works. Financially no one is getting rich doing this, but we’ve finally reached a point where it’s realistic for the producers and distributors to make money on their efforts, if we approach it the right way.
What’s your take on distributing via Hulu, Netflix, etc?
Hulu and Netflix are two of many new distribution platforms that, in combination help make online video viable. Some of them see better performance with short form series than others, so we try a lot of things to see what works best.
You guys have diversified a lot on the Web, with Syfygames.com, Blastr.com, Dvice.com. Is this important for a network like SyFy not just to be a “typical TV network site”?
Syfy is unique in that people who like our brand have a lot of common passions, like gaming and an interest in technology. We’ve effectively doubled our online reach by providing content in these “affinity areas” as we call them, which opens up new business opportunities for us. I think there are other brands where you see this work, and some where it’s not a good fit at all.
You are a big Twitter person. You just passed 90,000 followers, in fact. How does a cable network represent itself on Twitter (and how shouldn’t it)?
Twitter is a great social platform and one that I’ve personally gravitated to because it gives me tremendous access to the fans of our brand. I can reach tens of thousands of people instantly and find out what they’re thinking and talking about, but I can also have one-on-one conversations as well. And with only 140 characters per tweet, it’s not a massive time sink like a blog would be. However, I don’t think there’s one set approach to how Twitter can or should be used by a TV network. My only suggestion is, play around have fun with it, and you’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t.