Next month, Sci Fi Channel will dock its flagship series Battlestar Galactica in another television galaxy: Sunday nights.
After two and half seasons of anchoring the network’s popular Friday night original-series block, Sci Fi will move the last 10 episodes of the show’s season to TV’s busiest night, starting Jan. 21. The scheduling change is a means to avoid what network executive vice president and general manger David Howe says is increased competition in the science-fiction genre from broadcast shows like CBS’s Ghost Whisperer, as well as widespread recording of the series.
But Battlestar will wind up squaring off against Without a Trace and other stiff competition from cable and broadcast networks on arguably the most competitive night of the week.
Still, Howe believes the show will thrive in its new time slot, when it will face little or no direct genre competition from linear networks.
“We’re confident that the audience will follow on a Sunday night and will create a powerful appointment-to-view block which will hold its own against what is perceived to be tougher competition, but in fact is less tough in terms of direct, head-to-head genre competition,” he said.
This fall, Sci Fi took a chance by launching for the first time a fresh round of episodes from original series into the teeth of the broadcast season. But in looking to establish a Friday night fall tentpole, Battlestar was also disengaged from the Stargate series that had accompanied it in the past.
Sci Fi’s highest-rated original scripted series has struggled during the first half of its third season, which began Oct. 6 and ends Dec. 15. Through Nov. 17, the show’s premiere installments averaged a 1.4 household rating and 1.8 million viewers, well below the 2.1 rating and 2.4 million viewers the show attracted during the 10-episode first half of its sophomore season from July to September 2005, and the 1.9/2.1 million during its 10-installment second half from January to March 2006.
But Howe said the program’s performance is skewed because of heavy digital video recorder action — a quarter of its viewing is time-shifted, according to Howe.
With DVR viewing factored in, the show has averaged a 1.8 household rating and 2.25 million viewers through Nov. 10 and has recorded a 2% gain to 1.4 million of Sci Fi’s target audience of adults 18 to 49, compared with the show’s full second season.
Heavy DVR usage among younger viewers aside, Battlestar has also taken some hits from a pair of broadcast shows that touch the genre.
“Friday has become much more competitive,” Howe said. “There are more original and scripted shows that have been scheduled against us like [CBS] Ghost Whisperer which is very close to us in terms of genre and Numbers which is very close to us in demo. That has affected us more that we would have liked.”
Another Friday factor: the absence of new episodes of Stargate SG-1 and its spinoff Stargate Atlantis, and the millions of viewers they drew to Sci Fi and Battlestar on that night.
On Sundays, Dresden Files, the network’s new supernatural detective series, will serve as Battlestar’s lead-in.
FRIDAYS ORIGINAL VIABLE
Howe added the network isn’t abandoning Friday night as an original series destination. Despite its struggles, overall the network’s primetime lineup — which includes Dr. Who at 8 p.m., Battlestar at 9 p.m. and Dr. Who and Stargate repeats, has shown ratings increases over the same period last year.
For the fourth quarter to date, the network averaged a 1.2 rating from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays, up 50% over the 0.6 rating for the same period last year, when Sci Fi was largely airing series encores that night in primetime. Viewership is up 89% among adults 18 to 49 (810,000 vs. 429,000) and 82% among adults 25 to 54 (932,000 vs. 512,000) during the time period.
In second quarter, Sci Fi will air the final episodes of the 10th and final season of Stargate SG-1, as well as new episodes of Stargate Atlantis.
In addition, the network will replace Battlestar at 10 p.m. with a new show, Painkiller Jane — a series based on the invincible comic book superheroine.
SIZING UP THE COMPETITION
Howe wouldn’t rule out a return of Battlestar to Fridays in the future, depending on the night’s competition and the series’ performance on Sundays.
For now, Battlestar and Dresden Files will do battle against heavy competition from ABC’s Desperate Housewives at 9 p.m. and Brothers and Sisters at 10 p.m., as well as CBS’ Without A Trace at 10 p.m.
Sci Fi will also vie against VH1’s popular Sunday-night block of youth-targeted “Celebreality” fare, although it won’t have to endure another season of VH1’s most successful reality series Flavor Of Love, which will not return for a third season.