• 07.31.13

As Sharknado Hits Theaters, What We Can Learn From A Schlock Social Phenomenon

Cashing in on the social media sensation, Syfy and NCM Fathom Events will release Sharknado in select theaters for one night only, while the TV movie becomes an unusual case study in brand extension when a ratings flop is a Twitter hit.

As Sharknado Hits Theaters, What We Can Learn From A Schlock Social Phenomenon

Sharknado has not jumped the shark yet.


After the Syfy movie generated nearly 5,000 tweets per minute during its July 11 premiere, the cable network is extending the Sharknado feeding frenzy with an August 2 midnight showing (with never-before-seen footage!) in more than 200 movie theaters.

The TV movie recounts the travails of unsuspecting Los Angelenos contending with a tornado that lifts and flings a gang of Great Whites at them. Although a New York-based sequel is planned for next year, Syfy pounced on the social media sensation and teamed with NCM Fathom Events and Sharknado producer The Asylum for the theatrical event. Tickets are available at Fathom Events, and there will be a red carpet premiere with the cast and crew starting at 10:30 pm at LA Live Regal Cinemas in downtown Los Angeles.

Beyond its sparkling narrative, what makes Sharknado such an interesting media case study is its simultaneous boom-bust scenario. It set records in social media and lured younger demographics, while its premiere drew a below-average 1.4 million total viewers–even lower than Chupacabra vs. the Alamo (at 1.5 million).

So what does that mean? “It all feeds into each other. Ratings are important, but so are other metrics, like social media,” says Thomas Vitale, Syfy’s executive vice president of programming and original movies.

First of all, not so fast on the ratings “bust” or dismissing the contribution of social media. The Twitter explosion enabled Syfy to repeat the movie in prime time two more times: on July 18 and 27, when the ratings continued to climb to 1.9 and 2.1 million, respectively. “We showed the movie more, because of the buzz,” says Vitale. “Usually, we’d air a movie in prime time and then maybe one more time in another day part.

“We knew the night of the premiere that it might pop a little bit, from market research, social media chatter, a viral Sharknado poster, and a few advance articles,” adds Vitale. Then, celebrated geeks–Lost executive producer Damon Lindelof and Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Wil Wheaton–“started commenting and they have huge online followings. You can’t predict something like this.”

Second, the Twitterfest drove younger viewers to the movie, which saw a 71% boost in the 18-34 demographic–prized because those are the viewers who will talk about the show, says Vitale. The resulting buzz shines a light on the network in general, not just the movie.


And third, it created new branding opportunities, like San Diego Comic Con’s director and writer signing of the variant Sharknado movie posters by comic illustrators, and this week’s theatrical event.

“Because of the buzz, the Regal cinema chain [part of the NCM network] contacted us to do the midnight showing,” says Vitale. “Who knows, maybe Sharknado will be the next Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

And if you can’t wait till next year for your next killer shark fill, there’s always Syfy’s Ghost Shark on August 22, preceded by, you guessed it, Sharknado.

About the author

Susan Karlin is an award-winning journalist in Los Angeles, covering the nexus of science, technology, and arts, with a fondness for sci-fi and comics. She's a regular contributor to Fast Company, NPR, and IEEE Spectrum, and has written for Newsweek, Forbes, Wired, Scientific American, Discover, NY and London Times, and BBC Radio.