Do I have to explain the audience principle again?

May I explain the audience principle to you? If you insult and accost them, we have no audience!” –Banky Edwards, “Chasing Amy”

I’m confused.

I thought the point of “narrowcasting” was to reach a specific, targeted audience; to have a definite set of demographic attributes your advertisers could look at and know they were definitely spending their money wisely; or at the least cynical, to provide a dedicated place for people with a certain interest to go to see programming related to that interest.

Apparently not. Apparently narrowcasting is a gateway to broadcasting; once you’ve got your foot in, it’s time to expand your viewership beyond the niche that made you successful, even if it means insulting that original constituency.

Coming off the best year in its history, SciFi Channel has announced a puzzling “re-branding;” a name change that they hope will allow them to expand their empire. They will now be known as “Syfy.”

Syfy logo

“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.”

Wow. Geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys? Why don’t you push me against a locker and demand my lunch money while you’re at it, Mr. Brooks? While I’ll admit we’ve got a long way to go yet, this view of Science Fiction fans seems more than a little outdated. At the very least, it’s not representative of what we are seeing at SF conventions across America. There are more women attending cons than even 10 years ago. Add to that the incredible popularity of video games with the general public, and you wonder where Mr. Brooks is getting his market research.

“We spent a lot of time in the ’90s trying to distance the network from science fiction, which is largely why it’s called Sci Fi,” Mr. Brooks said. “It’s somewhat cooler and better than the name ‘Science Fiction.’ But even the name Sci Fi is limiting.”

But SciFi was started as a Science Fiction network. They’re the guys who would show 16 straight hours of Twilight Zone back when they had no other programming. And SciFi fans stuck with them, through countless missteps (“Mansquito?”) before they finally found solid footing with their amazing reboot of Battlestar Galactica. The core of their programming and audience is and has always been Science Fiction. And their proposed slate of new shows is…a bunch more Science Fiction.

Mr. Howe said going to Syfy will make a difference.

“It gives us a unique word and it gives us the opportunities to imbue it with the values and the perception that we want it to have,” he said.

Oh lawdy miss clawdy. I hear some strange marketing adspeak from time to time, but that’s over the top. Then we have this:

The network worked with the branding consultancy Landor Associates and went through about 300 possibilities before selecting Syfy.

“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.”

So…in order to appeal to an audience beyond geeks they tested their new name on…geeks. Brilliant.

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.

Exactly. But that should be seen as an opportunity to educate the general public about Science Fiction, to foster understanding between SciFi fans and the rest of the world. It shouldn’t be used as an excuse to hide Science Fiction’s identity and rebrand it as something else.


About toxicbag

Toxic Bag Productions, Inc. provides sound effects and music for independent films, animated shorts, theatrical productions, dance performances, podcasts and video games. They work out of their studio on the north side of Chicago.

Posted on March 16, 2009, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Notice that the word “dysfunctional” (from your quote of the press release) contains the letters needed for both scifi and syfy …

  2. this is, as we would say in the Boston vernacular, RETAHDID!

    Thats like Lifetime Movie Network starting to say “We need to branch out and appeal to more men – so next month starts NASCAR April!!!!!”

    dumb, dumb, dumb!

  3. @Steve: It’s that sort of thinking that the new SyFy Channel will be looking to distance itself from. Too nerdy.

  4. >>this is how you’d text it

    >>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.

    This is how you’d TEXT it? Seriously, the dumbing down of American is really beginning to piss me off.

    JE was telling me how – grading papers/scripts – she was amazed by how many would write in “text-speak”…and not as a Juno-like character. As in, to direct action.

    “Sarah enters LOL.”

    And now, this is something that is sought as a customer/viewer? It makes me want to pick up a rock and throw it at their heads, Jurassic style.

    Since that might be the only way they understand my intent.

    >>an opportunity to educate…foster an understanding

    Opportunity not only missed, but bludgeoned to death.

  5. wow, this is for real?

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