‘Sharknado’ rides marketing wave back to Syfy in latest sequel

Los Angeles (CNN)Syfy caught lightning in a bottle with the first “Sharknado” in 2013. Now the latest installment “Sharknado: The 4th Awakens” proves that the network still has ample incentives to milk as much as it can out of the franchise, even as the returns on it diminish — and also shows just how hard it will be to kill this social-media-powered monster.

“The 4th Awakens” is, like its predecessors “Sharknado 2: The Second One” and “Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No,” more than just a purposefully schlocky movie. It’s an opportunity for synergy with the larger NBCUniversal family.
“It’s not just about the ratings,” said Chris Regina, Syfy’s senior vice president of original co-productions. “It’s about our influence and our presence in the pop-culture landscape.”

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While the producers work in just enough references to “Star Wars” to justify the title, “The 4th Awakens” is also busy showcasing NBC talent, like “Today’s” Al Roker and Natalie Morales, as well as MSNBC as a whole. (A certain other cable news network is identified, by contrast, as “ZNN.”)
Syfy’s multi-pronged approach to the movie, which premieres Sunday, includes a week’s worth of related programming, a Sunday marathon of the three prior movies leading up to the premiere and a commercial-free preview of a new vampire series, “Van Helsing,” immediately after the telecast.
It’s a lot of effort for, and pressure on, a film series that could have already hit its peak.
The first “Sharknado” in 2013 took off unexpectedly thanks to strong gusts of social media, producing a tweet-storm that improbably made the title stand out.
“Sharknado 2: The Second One” attracted almost three times as many viewers with its first telecast — about 3.87 million people. But by “Sharknado 3,” the novelty appeared to be cooling. The audience slipped to 2.81 million, per Nielsen data — markedly better than the average Syfy movie, but a sign “Sharknado” was likely slowing down.

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Still, even if “The 4th Awakens” slips further in viewership, it might not matter. While the budget has increased since the bargain-basement original (which reportedly cost less than $2 million), “Sharknado” remains an inexpensive proposition relative to the attention it reliably brings to the network.
“We punch above our weight,” Regina said of what the movie delivers relative to its budget, adding that amid a sea of dark cable drama, “Sharknado” offers fun and “pure escapism.”
The plot is virtually beside the point, but here it is anyway: “The 4th Awakens” takes place in Las Vegas and Kansas (opening the door for “Wizard of Oz” jokes), with a company having created anti-Sharknado technology. Naturally, that fails almost immediately, paving the way for plenty of chainsaw-wielding action.
After the producers exulted in the movie’s elevation to cultural sensation in the earlier sequels, though, everything about “Sharknado” feels more perfunctory, including its by-now obligatory cameos. And while the franchise has never really cleared the “So stupid that it’s clever” hurdle, the repetitive nature of the films — surrounding Ian Ziering’s reluctant hero, Fin Shepard — has only made that process feel more laborious.
Regina said the project’s future is reevaluated after each movie, but “Sharknado” likely has enough altitude to weather another modest drop. Given that, it would be nave to expect any criticism to spare us from seemingly inevitable sequel subtitles, like “Revenge of the 5th” and “6th Happens,” as long as the marketing force is with it.
“Sharknado: The 4th Awakens” premieres July 31 at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT on Syfy.

Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/27/entertainment/sharknado-syfy-review/index.html

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