Aging Tech

Mainstream Popularity of Sci-fi is Killing Former Cult Websites

Battlestar Galactica, Lost, and Heroes. I bring those three programs up because these are the shows that not only forced audiences to be smarter viewers, but it’s changed the entire landscape of science-fiction. And while I can’t think of a single person that would think that as bad, having such programs move to the mainstream can, in fact, have negative effects.

When SyFy Portal first started in 1998 as SyFy World, science-fiction had a great fanbase, a large fanbase. But we as fans were still in our own group, our own family, and there was nothing we couldn’t do together.

Shows like “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” “Farscape,” “Babylon 5” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” got a very little mention in the mainstream press, with shows like “ER” and “Friends” taking up all the available space. Even the people who give out the Emmy didn’t seem to notice such quality shows like these and others were around. And don’t get me wrong: The stigma against science-fiction still exists. Just take a look at how space-faring shows, such as “Battlestar Galactica,”do when it comes time to awards through mainstream programs like the Emmy.

Despite these shows getting little attention from TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly, most of the major dailies and such, it was fans that stuck around and did everything they could to support them. Whether it be fan clubs, mailing list groups, message boards, and especially news sites such as TrekWeb, GateWorld, TrekToday, and yes, SyFy Portal.

But believe it or not, with the move of programs like “Battlestar Galactica,” “Lost” and “Heroes” getting critical mainstream attention not just from publications like TV Guide, but even more from places like Time magazine and Rolling Stone, fans are able to find news from a wider variety of sources, and are tending more toward the bigger names like TV Guide than the smaller names like, Sci-Fi Pulse, and like SyFy Portal. And these sites have felt it.

There are a number of places that track visitors to websites, with the most popular obviously being Nielsen Media Research’s NetRatings, but not everyone has a subscription to that, so many of us tend to rely more on Alexa, which tracks Web surfers using cookies. The information there may not be totally accurate in terms of overall numbers, but it can identify trends and the like.

Not much has changed on most of these sites and others except for one thing: Some of our bread and butter programs, like “Battlestar Galactica,” like “Lost,” like “Heroes,” are now being covered more extensively by websites and news organizations with paid staff writers who are right there in filming locations and get cover it far better than the smaller sites.

Many of us have held our own, or have put in a tremendous effort, but how can a site like SyFy Portal – with volunteer writers spread out throughout the country who write when they are not working their real jobs or spending time with their real families – compete with someone who can devote at least 40 hours a week to what they do? It’s not impossible, but the mountain to climb is nearly insurmountable.

I can’t tell anyone to stop going to TV Guide, or to E! Online, or to Entertainment Weekly, or even to CNN to get their entertainment news. I go there myself, and it would be hypocritical. At the same time, however, many of these sites – like us – who have been around for years, who have covered and worked to keep on the air shows that no one else even noticed, depend depending readers that stop by. Readers equate to advertising dollars, and advertising dollars pay what can be large bills to keep websites up and running (none of these sites are cheap).

I can’t speak for other sites like us, but I can say that SyFy Portal is trying to find new ways to reach out to fans, and have been looking to increase our original stories and such like reviews and columns significantly, but if any of us are still going to be around once the mainstream furor dies down on these shows, we do need your help. Keep visiting all the major news sites and such, and enjoy them. But don’t forget to also spend some time at the smaller sites, too. We have a lot to offer, and at some point, the mainstream media is going to move on to other things, as they always do, and it’s going to be important to have sites around like SyFy Portal, TrekWeb, Stargate SG-1 archive and others to make sure that our fandom is properly served.