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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

question of the day: WTF is up with the Sci Fi Channel changing its name to Syfy?

As if science fiction as a genre weren’t already the butt of so much unfair derision, now the Sci Fi Channel has gone and changed its name to “Syfy,” which is precisely the corporate equivalent of that girl in eighth grade who rechristened herself “Braaandiii” with hearts over all the i’s, and just as stupid.

Why would Sci Fi do this? Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch fills us in:

Cable’s Sci Fi channel is changing its name to Syfy, which sounds the same but can be trademarked, in an attempt to “broad[en] perceptions and embrac[e] a wider and more diverse range of imagination-based entertainment including fantasy, paranormal, reality, mystery, action and adventure, as well as science fiction,” according to the network’s statement.

It was embarrassing enough that what was supposed to be the signature channel for SF fans was filling its schedule with wrestling and bullshit ghosthunting reality shows, but now we have to deal with “Syfy”? And this nonsense spelling is supposed to improve the genre’s image? They might as well have put a “kick me” sign on the network’s back.

WTF is up with the Sci Fi Channel changing its name to Syfy?

(Today’s QOTD was independently suggested by readers Mark and Charlene. If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)



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  • Katie Dvorak

    It makes absolutely no sense to me either but frankly, given the ridiculousness of the network these days, after BSG ends on Friday I doubt I’ll be visiting SciFi much. The best thing on there besides BSG is those cute network commercials. Which they probably won’t be doing anymore. So yeah, it’s a total WTF but I guess I don’t really care.

  • Maybe it’s cheaper than providing quality programming.

    Did you know that SyFy is a Polish word for venereal disease. This from John Scalzi: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2009/03/17/the-venereal-disease-channel-imaginatizes-greatastically/

    Ha!

  • Katie nailed it. Yeah, it’s dumb—as is their new slogan, “imagine greater”—but after BSG ends I have no reason to tune in anyway.

  • Actually I thought C. A. Bridges summed it up nicely:

    …This was not just a marketing-driven decision to shed a public perception that, by all rights, should be targeted and advertised at. No, in true science fiction style there’s a deeper, more nefarious plan in place: by announcing this seemingly needless change, Syfy will rally those science fiction fans who love nothing better than to band together in loud opposition to something stupid (i.e. all of them), who will then have to watch Syfy in order to snarkily condemn it properly.

    I see this as a classic case of a company that has a product they don’t understand. Here is a network run by people who don’t like science fiction. They don’t read sci-fi, fantasy, and comic books (and likely don’t read much besides Variety Magazine). They don’t understand or like their viewers, and see the channel as some sort of red-headed-stepchild that they dump those “silly sci-fi things” into.

    They have been fooled because their audience has slowly become a bunch of dope-smoking 20-somethings who watch the bad movies and laugh or who drop acid or do some X and tune into the Twilight Zone Marathons because they are trippy. But this isn’t the audience they could have. And it isn’t the audience they want.

    They see this as a way to capture the hipster money-bearing job-hopper who is paying too much for his car and his lifestyle. They want the 30-40 year-olds who have steady jobs and 0.5 kids and another on the way and who consume mainstream (and cheap to produce) entertainment like American Idol and Who Wants to be a Supermodel.

    And what they are ignoring is the over-educated 20-50 year-olds who either own their own business or are gainfully employed, who own their own homes or are living in a stable home (Mom’s basement) who has a disposable income that is an order of magnitude above their expenses and to whom Media is a companion.

    If they were to provide the latter with steady decent programming and an avenue to purchase tie-ins like extras, downloads, box-sets, figures, collectibles, special live events and contests. Feed him marketing in the form of interstitial and relevant advertising and if they were to adopt some of the marginal shows from big networks as ‘pet projects’ and look at the media as means of perpetuating a license to sell their audience every gee-gaw under the sun (which they WILL buy). THEN we would have a good Science-Fiction Network.

    But that would require that they be half as smart as their audience. And that’s why we are going to get “Siffee”.

  • Cate

    A friend just told me about this and I said “You’re joking.” This is just a bad bad BAD joke, right?

  • Of course it’s a joke. The question is, on who?

    The only thing I’m really sympathetic to here is the notion of wanting a name they can trademark. Not unreasonable.

    But I find the idea that EW touches on, that the channel will suddenly become more acceptable to the “mainstream” because the name is different, laughable. BSG has made the channel about as mainstream as it ever has been. Maybe will ever be, at least for a long time.

    If they really think they can get more mainstream than they are just by a name change, I think they’re mistaken. And they’re insulting the viewer by assuming the same content will magically become acceptable watching because of a different channel name. But TV is good at viewer-insulting anyhow.

  • bats :[

    I guess I can understand (well, if I were a corporate entity) wanting to register/copyright/have my grubby little mitts over a unique name, and “Sci Fi” isn’t it. (I hate “Sci Fi,” anyway.)
    And in spite of my very old grade-school phonics training, Syfy looks for all the world like “Siffy” to me.
    Hey, I don’t have cable…why do I care?

  • Gee

    Well, if ‘Sci-Fi’ isn’t registrable as a trade mark then ‘SyFy’ won’t be either as it is phonetically equivalent. They could use it as an unregistered trade mark, but then, presumably that’s what they’ve been doing anyway with Sci-Fi.

  • Ryan

    It’s quite simple when you realize that the people behind the Sci-Fi channel seem to secretly (or not so secretly) wish they were running the Spike channel.

    It’s sad for all of us who enjoy sci-fi…but at least perhaps now they are opening the door for some people who actually care about the genre to jump into the field.

  • amanohyo

    C. David Dent, has generally the right idea; it’s clearly a decision meant to capture viewers in new demographics. Not only are they going after 30 something yuppie hipsters with their Apple products and Wii’s, they’re also going after teens.

    As any high school teacher can tell you, misspelling things in a cool way is the norm for today’s texting generation. The name change is also an indication that the head honchos in the marketing department believe that the term scifi is lugging around too much negative nerdy baggage. I mean, Science Fiction? That stuff is for losers.

    But Syfy, now that’s the channel of the future! A future where no one knows how to spell, read, or intelligently critique any product that is shoved in front of their faces.

  • Nathan

    I have to imagine that there were better options than “Syfy,” but other than that it’s a good idea for the channel. They obviously don’t care about filling their schedule with quality science-fiction, so why pretend? Now they can fill their fill their line-up with anything slightly out of the ordinary and call it imaginative. If they eventually stumble on to something good like BSG again the geeks will dutifully tune in no matter what the channel is called.

    If they’re smart they’ll mimic G4 and have video-game review shows and a talk-show hosted by nerds surrounded by buxom twenty-something women who pretend to be nerds or like nerds.

    Overall it makes sense for them. It’s just a disappointment for all the people who like the idea of having a channel dedicated quality fantasy/science-fiction — even though that’s something that has never existed.

  • Gee

    If they are going to change the name, why not be more adventurous? e.g.

    “Imagine” or “Imagination” (from Nathan’s post :-))

    – something which is also likely to be more distinctive and registerable as a trade mark. Just providing they don’t go down the pedestrian route of the British channel, formerly catchily known as “UKTV G2”, and re-branded as “Dave” – ‘because everyone knows a bloke called Dave!’

  • the rook

    it’s just the next step in the channel’s death march toward irrelevance. they really couldn’t do any worse by calling the channel skiffy and they might have done better if they had used the l33t spelling $c1f1.

  • Jason

    I can’t believe that the Sci-Fi and Chiller networks are owned by the same corporate parent. My cable provider picked up Chiller about 2 months ago, and while they often show leftover Sci-Fi CGI bug and snake movies, there’s really nothing on the channel that neither strays from its assumed mission statement (“We show creepy stuff”), nor wouldn’t feel too out of place on Sci-Fi Channel itself. Tales from the Darkside, Tales from the Crypt, 80s Twilight Zone, Monsters, FreakyLinks, Millennium. A few weeks ago they even had a Twin Peaks marathon. Not bad.

    I consider myself a pretty open-mined person, but when niche networks try to broaden their viewership, it drives me nuts: live action movies on Cartoon Network; wrestling on Sci-Fi; original reality series on the nostalgia network TV Land. And poker tournaments on the Travel Channel, I suppose because the poker venue is at a location on Earth that you have to travel to to get there.

    Anyone care to explain the disdain for the term Sci-Fi? I mean not by corporate network tools, but by science-fiction fans. I feel like a philistine because I don’t get it, or care.

  • RyanH

    The corporate disdain for the term Sci-Fi comes from the fact that it inconveniently limits them to providing a certain type of content. New executive wants to put wrestling on the network so they can prove how ‘innovative’ they are being? A certain amount of song and dance is needed if the network in question is called ‘Sci-Fi’. But ‘SyFy’? That’s just another brand name to be moulded and hung with whatever meaning is needed at the time. You can put anything on ‘SyFy’, where as with Sci-Fi there are certain pesky viewer expectations.

  • RogerBW

    Remember the TNN to Spike transition? It’s a whole lot easier to rename and rebrand an existing cable channel than to launch a new one. This strikes me as a logical step in that process.

    As for the untapped audience for quality SF: well, maybe it’s there, but how well has even BSG done compared with wrestling or reality shows? You can be at the top of your niche, but there’s still a whole lot more money if you get out of the niche and serve up pablum instead.

    Time for the serious programme-makers to abandon TV completely and go straight to web/DVD.

  • Paul

    What percentage of the channel formerly known as SciFi is actually science fiction anyway? Was Stargate really their heyday and Battlestar their swan song?

    I think this is what happens when you spend more money on marketing executives than getting good writers.

  • Jason

    I found an old discussion of Science Fiction vs. Sci-Fi:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDNrnpefGio

    It seems to be a bunch of splitting of hairs, like calling Alien science fiction, and Aliens sci-fi. Harlan Ellison’s facetious analogy for Jewish Literature must be heard to be believed.

    Now that they don’t have to be “bogged down” by the term Sci-Fi, there’s a great opportunity for Syfy to become an unofficial Comic-Con network, or Wizard TV. Broadcast shows like Prison Break or 24, which are pushing the bounds of reality and logic that they may as well take place in an alternate universe. (Well I guess they already do.) Or since it’s already an NBC/Universal property, how about rerunning their new show Kings?

  • @Jason
    The run back episodes of Lost on “Siffy” even now don’t they?

    And to be honest, I don’t mind that. I’d be glad to have “Siffy” be about “Alternate Histories” and “Speculative Fiction” as well as Sci Fi…but frankly those thinks were already part of Sci Fi.

    This smells of preppy jealousy over the nerds in High School who had better grades and got better jobs (like CEO of a Silicon Valley Startup) than Network Programming Executive.

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