What in God’s name is a syfy?

So how ’bout that impending new name for the Sci-Fi Channel? Never mind that “Syfy” is, in my most humble opinion, an irreconcilably stupid word; this whole to-do has reminded me of certain traits of the people who produce the art we consume that I tend to forget from time to time.

Let’s examine a few choice morsels from the aforelinked article.

“What we love about this is we hopefully get the best of both worlds,” Mr. Howe said. “We’ll get the heritage and the track record of success, and we’ll build off of that to build a broader, more open and accessible and relatable and human-friendly brand.”

“Human-friendly?” Surely Mr. Howe doesn’t mean to imply that geeks/nerds/what have you are in some way subhuman; surely he simply means that a re-branding campaign would help bring more humans into the viewership. But I wonder how many current viewers it will alienate. Apparently they’ve deemed it worth the risk; it worked for the video game industry, after all. Now, I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice if the companies responsible for our entertainment had more money to work with thanks to an increase in consumers, but is it conceivable that a reimagined company might, in time, rid itself of the things that made us like it in the first place because they’re less profitable than what the shiny new fan base wants? I’d think so.

The bottom line is, an entertainment company is only interested in pleasing its current fan base as long as said fan base is satisfyingly profitable. Low-level employees need to eat, after all, and upper managers in any proper capitalist society require regular bonuses as catalysts for the eldritch spells that keep them from going poor like the rest of us right now.

Sci Fi is coming off the best year in its history. In primetime it ranked 13th in total viewers among ad-supported cable networks in 2008. It’s a top-10 network in both adults 18 to 49 (up 4%) and adults 25 to 54 (up 6%).

During its fourth-quarter earnings call, parent General Electric said Sci Fi racked up a double-digit increase in operating earnings despite the beginnings of the recession.

Given that, and the fact that science fiction and fantasy are probably acceptable to a larger audience now than they ever have been since the birth of TV thanks to such illustrious personages as Harry Potter and Batman, what’s the point?

“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.

I’ll refer Mr. Brooks to the previous blockquote. They’ve done alright so far, haven’t they? Also, I know a metric fuckton of “female audience” members who are at least okay with sci-fi and fantasy. This is, after all, the Year of our Lord Two Thousand and Nine.

Yes, these people are professionals and I’m not, they’d know better than I would, etc. etc., but still.

And, goddammit, if he didn’t think the name worked, why didn’t he do something about it when he helped launch the channel?

In terms of television, the new brand better reflects that the channel has programs that are not about the typical sci-fi themes of space, aliens and the future.

Like Battlestar Galactica and Stargate? Oh, wait.

I know that the channel has its share of low-quality horror, too, but I was under the impression that its epic space operas were quite profitable; why risk a system that’s been proven to work? Here’s an idea: why don’t these people devote their market-savvy ways to convincing consumers of something many have already begun to figure out, namely that speculative fiction isn’t the dark side of the artistic force?

Honestly, I think the channel’s image problem (if there even is a problem, given that “during its fourth-quarter [of 2008]…Sci Fi racked up a double-digit increase in operating earnings despite the beginnings of the recession”) isn’t related to its being known as a haven of nerds so much as its reputation for airing absolute shit most of the time. How about improving the quality of the programming, and then worry about brand names and such? But now I’ve started to air my negative opinions, so let’s move on.

“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.”

There’s nothing insightful in this quote; I just think it’s funny when the rhetoric of the uncool (“techno-savvy,” “hip”) is used to describe coolness. Or maybe I’m wrong, and that language is hip among the techno-savvy these days.

For the record, yes, I indulge in what could easily be called the rhetoric of the uncool, but I don’t do so while presuming to be cool or claiming to represent an organization rife with coolness.

The network will begin briefing cable operators about the transition this week and plans a trade ad campaign in April as part of the upfront. The new campaign will use the slogan “Imagine Greater,” which Mr. Howe thinks will resonate with both consumers and media buyers.

“It’s a call to action,” he said. “Look at the everyday and how you can turn it to the extraordinary. It’s an aspirational, optimistic message about enhancing people’s lives.”

Yeah, people already do that. It’s called sci-fi. Seriously, what an asshole.


Forgive my unreasonableness here. I know well enough by now how companies operate. I simply have a tendency to don my armor, draw my bastard sword, and offer an oath to the gods of righteous vengeance when I feel that I or my comrades in arms are at immediate risk of being sold out and written off. That risk must exist, it seems, for the companies that produce the things we like to survive, but I reserve the right to be disgruntled about it.

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  1. Nazarielle

     /  19 March 2009

    So, they’re changing the name to something that sounds exactly the same. And they’re changing it to something these geeks, the same ones from whom they’re trying to distance themselves, would use as short hand to reference it. Brilliant.

    I rarely find myself tuning into Sci-Fi anyway, as I never got into Battlestar Galactica nor Stargate. On occasion, they’ll have an episode here or there of Star Trek: The Next Generation and I might sit and watch that for a bit, but I certainly don’t tune in regularly.

    I hope their viewership plummets like a rock.

    • Pontifus

       /  19 March 2009

      Yeah, I don’t really watch Sci-Fi either. I probably would’ve been considerably more irate if I did. It mostly just makes me wonder what’s next; will KyoAni stop producing TV shows and devote their resources to, I don’t know, supermarket commercials?

      …Well, no, probably not, but things like this inspire me to go into doomsayer mode.

  2. I think that “human-friendly” is meant to be a questionably-well-intentioned joke that the typical Sci-Fi Channel viewer is an alien.

    I don’t even GET Sci-Fi Channel anymore (I’ve not had anything bigger than basic cable access for a long time, and I doubt I’ll ever get larger cable access in the future), but this is just the silliest thing ever. For one, I recall people saying that “Sci-Fi” as a shortening of “Science Ficton” was terribly silly and stupid and you should use “SF” instead (SF sounding sleeker and cooler), so that’s Name Strike One.

    Now it’s “Syfy” which, while I realize is supposed to be pronounced the same, I cannot help but mispronounce (Siffy). Name Strike Two.

    And they don’t even use the Asimov font! Like, seriously? How can you be a channel that caters to fans of “Syfy” and not use Asimov, the font of the future (according to the 1980s anyway)? Name Strike Three, out, etc.

  3. Speaking of ‘sf’ vs. ‘sci-fi’ and Asimov, I’m sure he argued that ‘sf’ was a term for science fiction with at least some thought behind it and ‘sci-fi’ was a term for pulpy space opera.


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