SciFi Chanell Aims to Suck More

I have no love for SciFi channel. I’ve been sort of mad at them ever since they they canceled Farscape. They sort of redeemed themselves when they produced the miniseries that wrapped up that show, and then created Battlestar Galactica which is one of the finest shows on TV right now. These two shows (Farscape and BSG) are sort of their crowning achievement – they are the original productions that have really put their channel on the map. And they are both classic Space Opera shows – which is exactly what you would expect from a channel with a name like SciFi. In fact, every single highly rated and popular show that brought new viewers onto their channel has been deeply rooted in the Science Fiction genre.

But moderate success they enjoyed in the last few years has been consistently misinterpreted by their management. Somehow they desperately want to distance themselves from their core demographic, and alienate all their loyal viewers in some feeble attempt to widen their scope and reach mainstream demographic. This has been happening for a while now. These days their programming consists of 80% non sci-fi content (such as crappy, made for TV, horror movies, reality shows, and supernatural mystery crap) and 20% more traditional sci-fi content. That particular 20% contains shows that have reached a cult like status and grown huge fandoms. These are the shows that get all the hype, and all the attention. I hardly ever hear anyone talking about, or reviewing any of Scifi’s other ventures. They have a huge built in audience that tends to love all their Hard Scifi and Fantasy crap, but sort of ignores their uncoordinated jaunts into horror, reality TV and mystery territory. This built in audience is composed in large part by fanbois and fangirls who are willing to spend a lot of money on tie-in merchandise, conventions and other silly crap. They are the kind of people who will force their friends and loved ones to watch their favorite shows with them – by force! But apparently Scifi doesn’t want that. They want to be mainstream and want nothing to do with geeks and geek culture. And to drive that point home, they are now changing their network’s name to SyFy instead of SciFi:

11syfylogo.jpg

Yeah, I thought this was a joke too but sadly it is not. They are really going to change their name to disassociate themselves from the Science Fiction genre and SF culture:

“The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular,” said TV historian Tim Brooks, who helped launch Sci Fi Channel when he worked at USA Network.

Mr. Brooks said that when people who say they don’t like science fiction enjoy a film like “Star Wars,” they don’t think it’s science fiction; they think it’s a good movie.

“We spent a lot of time in the ’90s trying to distance the network from science fiction, which is largely why it’s called Sci Fi,” Mr. Brooks said. “It’s somewhat cooler and better than the name ‘Science Fiction.’ But even the name Sci Fi is limiting.”

Here is a funny thing – when I was really active in Scaper fandom, the ratio of male to female message board posters was off the charts. It was pretty much 50/50 and at times girls actually outnumbered guys (at least according to our rough estimates) especially in the shipper and fanfic forums which where decidedly female dominated. And the age spread was also skewed – many the ladies who were posting there were busy 30+ moms or career women. It was very peculiar environment, which actually facilitated civil thoughtful, intelligent discussion rather than more customary flame wars and drama.

I’m not really involved in BSG fandom but from what I can tell they have a very similar fan base. There are a lot of female BSG fans out there. It seems that if you produce good quality TV shows, people will watch it no matter what. Sure, some folks will refuse to see anything with a spaceship in it. But a lot of people get over that notion pretty quickly – just like in that Star Wars example they made. If you have an excellent content, does it really matter your network name is a bit geeky sounding?

They have already drawn a diverse and loyal audience to their network, using nothing but hard SF and space opera type products. These people are likely to stick around and watch other shows on the network with similar profile. But since the rest of SciFi’s programming is total crap no one actually does that.

And let’s face it – some of the most successful entertainment brands out there are Science Fiction: just look at Star Wars and Star Trek. I mean, Star Trek is nearly synonymous with geek culture – and yet, it continues to be extremely profitable despite that stigma. I’m not even going to mention Star Wars, which continues to be a money making machine no matter how hard George Lucas tries to destroy it with the prequel bullshit.

This absolutely kills me:

“When we tested this new name, the thing that we got back from our 18-to-34 techno-savvy crowd, which is quite a lot of our audience, is actually this is how you’d text it,” Mr. Howe said. “It made us feel much cooler, much more cutting-edge, much more hip, which was kind of bang-on what we wanted to achieve communication-wise.”

I don’t know what techno savvy crowd they tapped into, but in the parts of the internet I frequent the accepted shorthand for Science Fiction is SF not SyFy. Also, I’m pretty sure these people who went “OMG! That’s how I would text it!” were definitely not their core audience. These are the people who won’t watch their network anyway.

I do get their point about branding though – they are correct in their assessment that SciFi is not a very good brand. It is not unique and has a meaning of it’s own that sort of indicates a rather narrow focus. When someone says Sci-Fi people think Science Fiction, and not necessarily SciFi Channel. Which is a branding problem – but not a debilitating one. Weather Channel, History Channel and Animal Planet have the same issue – but they are also well established brands, and they all do offer content that goes beyond the narrow focus indicated by their name (which often annoys me). They don’t really need to change the name. But they want to.

The message here is clear, and it was captured in that first quote. They want to get rid of their current viewership, and tap into the mainstream market and air shows with just slight supernatural accents and reality shows. They are desperately trying to run away from the image that really helped them to build up their brand to where they are right now. Case in point – their latest and greatest project – a BSG prequel drops the space opera trappings, and won’t even use Battlestar Galactica in the name. It will be a drama show, light on SF content – which is where I believe the direction they want to steer the network in. Less geek stuff, more mainstream stuff.

Will it work? Personally, I don’t think so. I think that most mainstream viewers will still avoid their network, regardless of the name and the only way to hook them in, is to deliver quality TV drama. What may happen – or rather what has been steadily happening since the 90′s is that they will alienate their core audience. For example, they lost me as a regular viewer quite some time ago. Nowadays, I tune in only to watch BSG. Lately I have been skipping even that – I watch BSG via my cable’s On-Demand feature (which is part of my subscription) which means I don’t actually see any of their commercials. I just can’t stand 80% of their content.

Oh, and just for the record – I think that SyFy is the worst name they could have picked. Polish readers will probably pick up on this right away. Let me just say this is one of those types of names that translates funny. In Polish, the word syf is commonly used as shorthand for syphilis (eg. “złapał syfa” == “he caught syphilis”). The word is also used in common parlance to describe dirt, grime, or disgusting, revolting mess. For example, if you would want to tell someone that their desk is disgustingly dirty and/or messy you could say “u ciebie na biurku to jest syf”.

The plural form of the word syf is syfy and is commonly used to describe things that are dirty, grimy, disgusting or diseased – but not necessarily literally syphilitic. It’s usually used when referring to genuinely nasty stuff like trash but it can be applied to just about anything. You can probably imagine that this new name Scifi Channel is so pleased with, is quite amusing and quite ironic to me. In a strange way it sort of perfectly describes the direction the network picked – they seem to be determined to jump head first into the mainstream gutter filled with trash TV, and stupid garbage productions.

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10 Responses to SciFi Chanell Aims to Suck More

  1. Nathan UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    [quote post="2902"]when I was really active in Scaper fandom, the ratio of male to female message board posters was off the charts. It was pretty much 50/50 and at times girls actually outnumbered guys[/quote]
    If it was around 50/50, wouldn’t the ratio have been 1? That’s not exactly ‘off the charts’. The only way I can see the ratio going off the charts is as the number of females approached zero. Since you can’t have a fraction of a female (questionable surgical practices aside), the highest ratio you can achieve is 99/1 (which, for the mathematically disinclined, equals 99), after which you hit singularity. The lowest is 1/99. Presumably this ‘chart’ goes from 0 to 100 and is thus capable of representing both these extremes.

    Nitpick win!

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Yes, technically you are right. What I meant to say there was that it was off the charts considering that Farscape was a science fiction show. In most cases SF/Fantasy forums are male dominated. If you are lucky, maybe 1 in 10 of your members may happen to be a female. In most cases it’s much worse than that. And yet Farscape and BSG seem to be equally appealing to both sexes and online forums and communities have a much more even distribution.

    So perhaps “off the charts” was an unfortunate expression. What I meant was that it was unexpected, and unprecedented compared to what I have seem before. I was basically trying to show that that Scifi’s assessment that the name scares away female viewers was wrong.

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  3. Marcus GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Debian GNU/Linux says:

    Spot on! Even in BSG itself I started to miss the action. There is a lot of drama going on lately, but sadly not much of the stuff I, as a Robotech fan, love. I know that drama is a vital part of the space opera genre, but I do miss my epic space battles. The flashbacks in the last episode were extremely painful to watch, I started to skip them.

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  4. Victoria UKRAINE Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    That rebranding sucks BIG TIME. Now, I don’t know about texting it, but considering my non-English origins it immediately looks like Sufu and that goes straight into Japanese food territory ;) and the logo itself is not even close to smth recognizable and/or remarkable.

    I think I’ve read smth about ownership rights problem in the article about this rebranding, so maybe it’s not that they want to change that much but they have to. Though their name choice sucks no less.

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  5. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Seems to me that some people has forgotten that SciFi is an acronym for Science Fiction.

    Probably from the same demographic that screams “NO WAY!” when you tell them that “laser” is an acronym too.. :P

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  6. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Marcus: They’ve been messing with BSG for a while. For example, I believe that for half a season they forced them to adopt a more traditional one-shot-episode format that would avoid major story arcs. I mean, there was still the ongoing long term story, but they wanted self contained episodes that new viewers could just jump into and watch. Ratings plummeted, and they reconsidered.

    As for BSG right now – I missed the last two episodes (must watch them on Demand sometime this week) but we are essentially in the home stretch right now. So they are wrapping things up, and building up for the grand series finale I presume.

    @Victoria: Yeah – it’s a branding issue. For example, they can put the word SciFi on merchandise or tie-in products, but people won’t necessarily associate them with the channel – just with science fiction in general. Even if they use that little planet logo of theirs, people may not make the association.

    And it’s probably hard to enforce trademark such as SciFi.

    @Mart: Or modem! People don’t believe me when I tell them that modem stands for modulator-demodulator. :P

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  7. Morghan UNITED STATES Epiphany Linux says:

    Who cares? I knew that it was the end for SciFi when they started airing wrestling. Maybe with this new focus they’ll stop destroying things like Sanctuary. FarScape, FireFly, Andromeda, Babylon 5 etc. That’s what I expect to see on a Sci-Fi channel, not WWE and “Who Wants to be a Superhero?” And the original movies are so bad that it takes an MST3K session with friends to actually manage to sit through them. Really, how many movies can you make about a bloody big snake?

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  8. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Morghan: Oh, yeah – I forgot they show wrestling these days. Sigh…

    You are right about the movies too. Big snakes and spiders seem to be their main inspirations. Also taking mythological animals and letting them lose in American Midwest. So far I have seen trailers for ones featuring a Hydra, a Chimera, a Wywern, the minotaur and like 50 different dragon related ones.

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  9. Pingback: No more niche TV stations « Terminally Incoherent UNITED STATES WordPress

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