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:
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.