In Which SciFi Channel Makes a Boneheaded Marketing Move

Today I happened on a news story that the Sci Fi channel is changing its name. To, uh, "SyFy." I am totally not making this up, guys. This would be merely a head-scratcher if it weren't for the appalling statement offered by channel president David Howe:

“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.”

Do you see what I see right there? They're trying to make a more "human-friendly brand." Does this mean existing viewers loyal to the SciFi brand are... aliens? Robots, maybe? Zombies?

It's not just the stupid name or the insulting reasons behind the change that makes this boneheaded; it's the combo of the two. If they'd wanted to defocus their origin, why on earth wouldn't they switch to something like 'SFC' for Sci Fi Channel (or Center, or Source, or Universe)? This is a common branding mistake, I think, when a company decides in order to get bigger and better it needs to shed the existing fans/customers/readers/viewers who made them a success in the first place. But how did Sci Fi.... er, SyFy get there?

Despite the suggestion on Twitter that the change is either an April Fool's joke that got into the wild early or the result of a chinchilla-staffed marketing department, I actually suspect there is a deeper trend at work. Let's go back to that article on TV Week again. 

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.

It's not a move caused by poor performance. No, I think the key phrase here is "parent General Electric." Basically I think this is GE discomfited because it perceives SF/F as a tiny niche. SciFi is for pimply nerds with poor social skills who live in their parents' basements. These people, they collect comic books, they've never kissed a girl, they have pallid skin and a weight problem (alternating too fat or too thin for the sake of variety). We've all heard the stereotype, and it's why SF/F is considered a literary ghetto

But evidence just doesn't support this ridiculous supposition, particularly when it comes to filmed entertainment. If you look at IMDB's top-grossing films of all time for the United States, arguably nine of the top 10 are science fiction or fantasy. Of the top 50, I could only find six where I don't think I could make a compelling case for calling them works of either science fiction or fantasy.

So yeah, GE? Do a little research. And Sci Fi? Stick to your guns. You know you've got the good stuff, and it's mainstream good stuff, too. Go ahead and back out of this misguided attempt to fool people into thinking you're something different. Don't worry, we'll probably forgive you.

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