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Syfy’s Pioneer in EyeOf the Digital Storm

The skies haven’t yet cleared since the ginormous entity that is Sharknado first hit the airwaves last month, when the original Syfy movie created a social media storm that at its peak generated about 5,000 tweets per minute. Two weeks later, that buzz pushed the movie to a viewership high with 2.1 million viewers—in its third airing.

Though Syfy senior VP and GM of digital Craig Engler knew Sharknado would trend on Twitter, the frenzy caught him by surprise, even drawing him into a “bizarre sideways conversation with Damon Lindelof, Elizabeth Banks, Olivia Wilde and Mia Farrow about them starring in or writing a sequel,” Engler says.

Though the creative team isn’t quite set, the sequel is now a reality. Syfy announced its follow-up film would debut in 2014; capitalizing on the movie’s buzz, Syfy launched a Twitter contest where fans could suggest the subtitle.

Twitter has become a platform for networks to talk to fans, though many accounts are faceless. Engler has taken Syfy’s Twitter presence to a personal level, freely advertising he is a network exec and holding Q&As with fans.

“Because Craig lives ahead of the curve when it comes to what’s new and next in digital and social innovation, he’s got a distinct advantage when it comes to creating the kind of custom, multiscreen content experience today’s audiences crave,” says Michael Engleman, Syfy executive VP of marketing, digital and global brand strategy.

Engler had pitched his plan to use the Twitter account to Syfy’s senior team after noticing that fans had misconceptions as to why Battlestar Galactica was ending, and he wanted to rectify it; the account is now one of the most popular places to gain insight into TV.

Engler’s interaction with fans on Twitter demonstrates his philosophy that “it’s important to be really authentic on social media,” even going so far as to live tweet his own wedding last year (with his wife’s permission). But although he is constantly on Twitter (handle is @syfy, 161,144 followers), Engler’s purview is much vaster. He leads the team that works on the net’s five websites as well as its apps, one of which will soon launch as Syfy’s TV Everywhere initiative.

“I’m one of the voices within the company that pushes us to be on more platforms and in more places as often as possible, which is why we have an app on Xbox and on Roku,” Engler says.

Web Printing Innovator

Engler has been on the Web in some form since the advent of the Internet, having launched Science Fiction Weekly, one of the first entertainment sites covering the genre, in 1995. Three days after its launch, Cool Site of the Day—which highlighted top Internet stops—picked SFW; almost immediately, Engler’s site went from five viewers a day to 500,000. Syfy, then Sci-Fi Channel, licensed the content from Engler, an arrangement that lasted three years before NBCU bought the site outright in 1999 and asked Engler to come aboard.

Engler has been the “digital guy” at Syfy since there was a need for one, but he’s a writer at heart. He penned two movies that aired on Syfy in 2011—Rage of the Yeti (which “should never be watched sober,” he says) and Zombie Apocalypse. He has no plans to write another, as he has been working on a book on a completely different topic for more than a year.

The book, Weight Hacking, explains just how Engler, who says he had been overweight for most of his life, lost more than 70 pounds. (Spoiler alert: Engler uses a treadmill desk, where he can “surf the Internet to my heart’s content.”) Engler used Indiegogo to crowd-fund the book, and he recently turned down an offer from a mainstream publisher in order to get it into the hands of customers by this fall.

Engler will only be able to breathe a short sigh of relief when his book is complete; afterward, he will be in the midst of another Sharknado when the sequel’s second wave of social media hits TV—and he’ll again be happily weathering the storm.