Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Off Topic: SyFy

Warning: I switch between Sci Fi and SyFy quite often in this post, and it may be confusing. It's not helped by the sci fi genre, also often mentioned. To assist in your navigation, I say Sci Fi when it makes sense to me to refer to the channel that was, and SyFy when I mean the channel that is. I use standard capitalization on both, so that the sci fi genre is distinguished from the network. It may be that the network would have been better off imitating the world of sci fi publishing, with names like Tor or Tachyon, or something else that begins with a T. It could not have been less awesome than SyFy, after all.

It may also be that this explanation strikes you as unnecessary and dorky. As is explained later, I am aware of and comfortable with my dorkiness.


I've waited a long time to have my say on this, so you've probably heard - the Sci Fi channel has changed its name to SyFy. They've matched this new name with a fairly lame new slogan - "Imagine Greater" - and the most bland and unattractive web site to come out of web 2.0.

I mean really. Look at that logo. It's as if they were trying to do something retro like a 60s science fiction TV show title, only without being awesome.

So why this change?

According to the VP of the channel in an article in Wired.com
, SyFy can be trademarked and branded, and sci fi cannot because it is a genre.

According to the President of the channel in an article in TVWeek.com
, the old name reminds people that they don't like science fiction, although they really do, they just don't know it. Quoting the article directly:

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.

The president of a network that was once called the Sci Fi Channel believes that people watching Star Wars don't think they are watching science fiction. Oh, the implications of this statement. For starters, I don't recall ever seeing anything as classic and popular on the Sci Fi Channel as Star Wars. But then, it's not like playing a Star Wars marathon would be groundbreaking programming, and would not exactly win them a devoted audience. The statement reveals a tremendous misunderstanding and disrespect for their audience, that ranges from "they don't know what science fiction is" to "people like good movies, not science fiction". As if sci fi and good movies are mutually exclusive.

I present to you, the highest grossing films of all time. The vast majority of these films are sci fi or fantasy, a genre divide that I think we should overlook considering that the Sci Fi Channel often did. Obviously, this list is no representation of whether these films are good or not, but it does represent what sells - something that I think SyFy is much more interested in. It would seem that either SyFy is out of touch with what is popular, or just incapable of delivering it. Considering how few hits they've had, I'd say both.

Further evidence that they don't understand the audience they should be marketing directly too is this direct quote from the SyFy president, also from TVWeek.com:

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.

Oh, the many things I could rage about, where to begin? That video games are a thriving mainstream business? That "geek" has become a word so over-adopted by hipsters that people who bore the title before it was cool make feeble attempts at reclaiming their cred (not to mention their community) by crying out "but you were POPULAR in high school!"

Or perhaps, that sci fi has plenty of female fans, of which I am one, blogging about sci fi novels? OK, this activity does not really put me in the mainstream of female sci fi fans. But what about the tons of women I see at sci fi conventions, their numbers equaling or exceeding those of the men? Women who are not just the sci fi women that the president of SyFy is thinking of. Most of them are young, attractive women, the type who will gladly make out girls-gone-wild style for the attention of slobbering men. Those women you see at your local bar on ladies night? They are also at the sci fi cons. Don't these women represent the very demographic that they think they are missing?

In the end, I think the best explanation for why Sci Fi became SyFy was described in the TWiT podcast, episode 207: that Sci Fi is too specific, and in order to justify showing non-sci fi programming while also telling their audience to quit their whining about the non-sci fi programming, they must change their name. Sci fi fans do tend to be sticklers for details, and we are more likely to complain - far more likely than the viewers of AMC when they show films that are not really movie classics. This post is part of that.

Of course, they could have tried something really wild, like acquiring better original programs instead of the occasional hit, thus permitting them to keep their focus on science fiction and keep their old name. But that's just crazy talk.

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