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SyFy’s movie chief: “Sharknado” buzz was “one of those magical things that happen”

Few recent TV events -- leaving aside the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards -- have generated as much heat online as "Sharknado," the TV movie that took Twitter by storm on Thursday night. By the time Mia Farrow weighed in, everyone but Hannah's sisters seemed to have been sucked into the Tara Reid vehicle with the self-explanatory title.

And yet cable network SyFy (rebranded in 2009 from its stodgy Sci Fi roots) saw not much of a ratings boost from its wild night of carnivorous fish flying through air. With fewer than 1 million viewers, the movie was below even the average for SyFy's movie offerings.

And yet SyFy brass profess to be unworried. In an interview, Thomas Vitale, the executive vice president of programming and original movies for the network, described the strategy underpinning "Sharknado" -- reverse-engineering the sort of spectacle that would draw in attention and build brand awareness, regardless of a single night's ratings. While every network cares about ratings to some degree, Vitale described a splintered media landscape in which SyFy -- still working to build awareness after its rebrand -- must fight to bring in new viewers to its offerings nightly. Ratings aside, Vitale said, "Sharknado" is a boon for the network's movie franchise and the network itself; what follows is a look at what a social-media hit can and cannot do for a basic-cable network.

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