Fans Find Sanctuary on the Sci-Fi Channel

Looks like the Sci-Fi Channel may have found a hit in Sanctuary. The former web series debuted on the network last Friday and was seen by more than 2.7 million viewers. The supernatural show’s success highlights some key similarities and differences between it and quarterlife, another high-profile web series that jumped to oldteevee.

Like quarterlife before it, Sanctuary was tapped to make the leap from the web to television amidst the writers’ strike earlier this year, when the networks were desperate for content. Both shows were picked up by NBC Universal properties — quarterlife by NBC, and Sanctuary by the Sci-Fi Channel.

The two shows have more than that in common. Both quarterlife and Sanctuary were created by teams of TV professionals. Sanctuary creator Damian Kindle had previously worked on Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. Both shows were expensive to produce. While quarterlife creator Marshall Herskovitz declined to give us a budget (he only said “way less” than any television show and “way more” than what was spent on online shows), it cost $4 million to produce the original 135-minute fx-heavy Sanctuary.

What was different was the expectation for each. One one hand, quarterlife drew an audience of 3.86 million for its debut on NBC, which put it in last place amongst the broadcast networks. The show was basically dead on arrival and quickly shuttled off to sister network Bravo. Sanctuary, on the other hand, has attracted a million less viewers, but because it was on a niche network, it gets a press release and praise from the network. (The real test is whether Sanctuary can grow this initial audience.)

The lesson here for future web series looking to make the leap to TV? Know your audience and migrate accordingly.