MediaLog MediaBrief: Sci Fi Channel to Change Name to "Syfy"

Making the media news rounds today are plans by NBC Universal to change the name of Sci Fi Channel to Syfy. (Articles reporting said name change are here, here, and here.) The new name, while retaining identification with the genre of science fiction (it's pronounced the same as "sci fi"), is meant to broaden the appeal and scope of the network, with programming related to additional topics such as paranormal phenomena, fantasy, and other broadly scientific/fictional realms.

This strikes me as a rather bone-headed move by NBC Universal. Although not as widely viewed as some cable networks by virtue of the fact that its subject matter is not every viewer's cup of tea, Sci Fi Channel has had a strong identity that has catered to hardcore science fiction fans, as well as others who may not be as hardcore but who have been attracted to the channel by programming such as critical darling "Battlestar Galactica." This name change seems to be (potentially) chucking most of that brand equity and loyal viewer goodwill in a gambit to broaden the network's appeal. There's a very good chance that longtime loyal Sci Fi Channel viewers will be upset with the change (which includes the network's related properties, such as its popular website), and that nonviewers will likely remain uninterested in the network's offerings. There's also the chance that casual viewers seeing the name"Syfy"--with the built-in pronunciation issues for those not hip to the change --will not make the connection to the old Sci Fi Channel.

The change also strikes me as another in the trend of cable branding changes that has made most of the cable programming landscape into a mushy mess of watered down network identities in the free-for-all of attracting viewers. Rather than stick with what is perhaps a smaller but also a more loyal core of viewers, channels have made changes (not always involving the name of the network) that have represented abandonments of the network's original identity. ("Ice Road Truckers" on History Channel, anyone? How about truTV? Don't get me started on TV Land.) In many respects, what was once a terrain of well-established and well-defined niches for cable networks has become a muddled and increasingly desperate grasping for elusive large-scale audiences. Sci Fi Channel's rebranding as Syfy is merely the latest example of this.

No comments: