Amazon Is Picking Up ‘The Expanse’ From SyFy, Because Streaming Is Eating The Universe
Amazon has picked up sci-fi epic The Expanse for a fourth season on its Prime Video service, following its cancellation by the SyFy channel and an impassioned social media campaign to save the show. That will be welcome news to a large cadre of fans – but also holds important lessons for the shifting landscape of subscription television.
The Expanse announcement, stunningly, was made personally by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos during a Friday panel at the International Space Development Conference, where Bezos was receiving an award for advocacy in the colonization of space.
Video capturing both Bezos’s statement and the crowd’s joyous response, was shared by Expanse cast member Cas Anvar.
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The context of Amazon’s announcement points to alignment between the The Expanse, which depicts near-future colonies both on Mars and in the solar asteroid belt, and Bezos’ own interest in space.
But taking over The Expanse is more than a billionaire’s pet project. The show has been critically lauded, with a complex plot and gritty approach to space travel that earned it comparisons to HBO’s Game of Thrones. Yet, The Expanse never generated anything like Thrones-level ratings for SyFy, underperforming even the network’s other niche dramas, such as The Magicians and Krypton.
Perhaps more damaging to The Expanse’s status at SyFy, though, was that, according to Deadline Hollywood, the network only had first-run rights to the show. SyFy streams episodes of the current third season, but the first two seasons of The Expanse stream on Amazon’s Prime Video service.
That means SyFy didn’t stand to capture revenues from prior seasons ofThe Expanse as new viewers discovered the show, giving it less motivation to keep the show alive. Serialized and plot-heavy shows like The Expanse have thrived in the binge-streaming era, as services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video make it easy for new fans to catch up. That seems to particularly benefit cerebral sci-fi, a genre Amazon has already announced major new investments in. SyFy’s own streaming efforts, meanwhile, have had some stumbles, with its app criticized by viewers citing technical issues and excessive advertising.
At the broadest level, then, the migration of The Expanse from cable to a streaming service can be seen as an index of the acceleration in “cord cutting,” or consumers switching from cable to streaming services. SyFy, with its smaller individual platform, couldn’t fully leverage a highly respected show, while Amazon thinks it can do much better – and has data from streams of prior seasons to back up that bet.