The High Fan Quality of Battlestar Galactica

There was an interesting article in the AP yesterday about Battlestar Galactica, and post-finale projects that the producers are planning that will be set in the Galaticaverse.

The point of the article was this: BSG has never had huge numbers, and they are continuing to shrink, so why bother with spinoffs?

Most of the answers in the article had to do with the inadequacy of measuring numbers in this day and age, and how the numbers initially reported by Nielsen don’t reflect the true popularity of the show.

Which may be true, but if show, it’s true for every TV show, not just Battlestar. So what makes Battlestar different from, say, Eureka, which has much higher ratings, but no movies or spinoffs planned?

I’ve got a theory: in a Long Tail universe, it isn’t about the fan quantity as much as it is about the Fan Quality.

By “Fan Quality,” I don’t mean that they are better people — though, obviously Battlestar fans are fully awesome, duh — but rather the intensity that fans possess for a particular piece of content. The more intensity, the higher the Fan Quality.

With Battlestar, the level of intensity is pretty high, so all parties involved know that there is an opportunity to give these fans more, and as long as the perception from the fans is that the new content continues to deliver what the old content did, this can go on for quite some time.

That’s always the assumption, BTW — that the creators continue to deliver the goods. If not, then watch out below: an ongoing crapfest like, say, Enterprise can destroy decades worth of good will in a single retconned series arc.

But once a high level of Fan Quality is established, it never fully goes away. In fact, this is what keeps musicians like Neil Young, Sonic Youth, Robyn Hitchcock and others going through long and varied careers: the fact that they have an established fanbase who are going to at least consider purchasing every single new release — even if they didn’t particularly like the last couple.

Which is great and all, but how can you tell that, for example, a TV show has a high Fan Quality?

Just go online, and start looking: if the buzz surrounding a piece of content is hugely disproportionate to the actual numbers attributed to that piece of content, it has a high Fan Quality.

Are there loads of reviews for it? Are there newspaper, magazine and online journal articles about it? Are there websites and continually updated wikis dedicated to it? Is there a ton of discussion going on about it?

A high Fan Quality isn’t going to mean that it’s a hit, but the disproportionate level of coverage does mean that the masses are going to have to actively ignore it, instead of never even hearing of it.

For example, while even hardcore fans of Mad Men might be sick of the endless parade of articles and blog posts about it this year, that buzz is also a signal that there is a core, loyal audience there. Mad Men has a high Fan Quality.

On the other hand, the relative lack of buzz surrounding a show like The Middleman has those of us who think that it’s best new thing we’re going to see all year assuming that it’s done after next week’s episode. The Middleman, sadly enough, has a low Fan Quality.

The problem, of course, with this theory is that Fan Quality is not as yet quantifiable. There isn’t a specific numeric threshold of buzz that is the tipping point from low Fan Quality to high Fan Quality. Currently, it’s like Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition of pornography: I know it when I see it.

And in the case of Battlestar Galactica, I totally see it.

5 Responses to “The High Fan Quality of Battlestar Galactica”

  1. Jonco says:

    Jim. Sooo true. One of my favorite shows “Venture Brothers” in their season finale this year, had a character mention they were taping BSG. High Fan Quality indeed!

  2. TIGHCLOPS says:

    I’d agree with the article, to some extent. While the fate of shows and spinoffs will always ultimately be decided by the dollar signs, “fan quality” has become more important in today’s TV world, where people aren’t loyal to networks – they are loyal to TV shows. If you want to get people watching your network, you need to have high quality shows, because people don’t care what name is being flashed at them before they fast forward through the commercials.

    Things like dvr technology and the easy accessability of TV shows online are making Nielsen numbers increasingly meaningless, so networks have to make their money in other ways. (I personally feel that a new adverstising method is going to have to be concocted – the commercial is rapidly going the way of the dodo)

    Which brings me to “fan quality.” BSG has show us that a show with low Nielsen ratings is not necessarily a show that is not being watched. I’d say that a high percentage of BSG views DVR it, watch it online, or rent / buy the DVDS when they come out. BSG is likely making more of it’s money through DVD sales than it is through advertising.

    While these kinds of numbers aren’t quantifiable yet, other kinds of things are – Emmy nominations, DVD sales, website hits for online shows, critical acclaim, and things like that all have showcased the strength of BSG. I have a feeling that a “new age” of TV is coming very soon and we are going to see significant changes in format and things like that – and I also have a feeling that the BSG franchise will be on the vanguard of that “new age.”

    Of course, since the dollar signs will always be the bottom line, the question really becomes “How does a series or franchise with high fan quality become profitable so that this kind of high quality television is maintained?”

  3. Jim says:

    First off: TIGHCLOPS = awesome handle!!!

    Can’t really argue with any of your points, especially about people being loyal to shows, not networks.

    That said, networks still have reputations.

    So, I’m not sure if that’s 100% true yet, as strong shows on networks with no reputation for strong shows can be ignored, and a weaker show on a network with a reputation for strong shows will still get an undue amount of buzz. For awhile.

  4. TIGHCLOPS says:

    #3 –

    Thanks, I saw it on XBOX Live playing Halo 2 one day and me and my roommates couldn’t stop laughing for the next hour.

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