Sci Fi Channel becomes Syfy

July 9, 2009

Three months ago, the Sci Fi Channel surprised everyone, including their most dedicated fans, by announcing that the channel was rebranding itself to be called Syfy – pronounced “sigh-fie.” The idea of the rebranding was to expand the audience of the channel to people who might be put off by the science fiction genre. On July 7, 2009 Sci Fi officially became Syfy, with the new slogan “Imagine Greater.”

CNN.com quotes Dave Howe, the president of Syfy, on the reasons why the channel needed the rebranding:

"We needed a unique and distinct brand name that we can own for the future, that works in the multiplatform, on-demand world," he said, adding that "Sci Fi" isn't a brand name, it's "a genre name." "Syfy," he said, "gives us a unique brand name. "The last thing we want to do is alienate our core audience," he added. With the new name, shows such as "Galactica" can be exposed to a wider audience, one not scared away by all that "Sci Fi" connotes ("space and aliens and the future," in Howe's words).

Howe continues on how the name was chosen:

"This was a two-year exercise," he said. The new name, he says, needed to be usable all over the world in Internet URLs, brand extensions and merchandising, and "the only way to do that is to create an empty name. "We explored them all," he said. "We wanted a word that was uniquely ours," while not straying too far from the sound of "Sci Fi."

It’s an interesting rebranding case study. On one side, you have the channel that is looking to expand and grow and feel that they need to break out of a general genre name that they could never fully own. Syfy explains the name change in their FAQ on syfy.com:

Why are you changing your name? Although we love the name Sci Fi, because it's a generic term, we can never own it. As the way people watch TV changes, that's becoming a growing issue for us. When we started out 16 years ago, we had one cable network in the U.S. and everyone watched TV live. By the end of 2009, we'll be in 50 countries, our content will be distributed across dozens of new platforms - from Hulu and iTunes to mobile phones and game consoles - and a growing number of viewers no longer watch live. That creates problems we've never had before, such as when a search for a "sci-fi show" might not turn up any results for a "Sci Fi show," when we compete in other countries with another network that uses "sci-fi" in its title, and on the text-based menu systems used on many devices, where the name Sci Fi and the category "sci-fi" are indistinguishable. As we expand our brand into new areas such as gaming and technology, Syfy will also help people tell the difference between a game that we're involved with and the hundreds of other sci-fi games out there that we're not.

On the other side, you have science fiction fans that are voicing their displeasure at the name change. Current Sci Fi viewers feel like the channel’s rebranding was done without the current fans in mind. The channel is in risky territory. Are they going to turn away so much of their current viewership with the new name that they won’t be able to recover with new viewers? Is Syfy watering down the brand? If so, this might be an opportunity for competitors to jump in to satisfy the Sci Fi genre niche. What are your thoughts on the rebranding? Were you a viewer before? If not, will the new name entice you to watch?

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