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SciFriday: The Syfy Brand, One Year Later

A look at how much a new name can make a difference

A year ago this week, the SciFi Channel changed the name it had used for nearly two decades, and became Syfy.

There were a lot of question marks surrounding the change, especially since the online public reaction was not very good. In fact, I remember considerable talk about this being a branding blunder along the lines of New Coke or “Battlefield Earth.”

Yet, Syfy president Dave Howe stuck to his guns. He made it clear that his network was committed to the name, and they were either going to prove their critics wrong, or go down with the ship. And you know what? Howe was right. The name does resonate with fans, and as long as you support it with quality programming like “Caprica,” “Warehouse 13,” “Eureka,” “Stargate: Universe,” “Sanctuary” and more, viewers will be there.

Even if you put wrestling on Fridays.

I’m really impressed with Howe and NBC Universal for taking such a risky move. And trust me, I still remember the thousands of comments posted by genre fans all over the net. Yet, it worked. Viewership is up in double-digits, traffic to the cable channel’s website has exploded. And no one seems to do doubletakes over the name anymore. In fact, Syfy has become a channel many equate with success.

And as someone with a direct personal connection with the name “SyFy,” I can do nothing but smile.

When Howe first announced the name change in March 2009, I was completely shocked. Not that they changed the name, but what they changed the name to. A month before, I had sold the SyFy brand to a company in New York that we had only a small hint was connected with NBCU. And where we were preparing for a well-capitalized news site to compete with us using our old name, we instead had to deal with the fact that “SyFy” was going to become bigger and better than ever.

I occasionally get people who ask me if I regret selling the name I created to NBCU. That’s a tough question for me, because I prefer to not be someone who lives with any regret.

I mean, I have to be honest. I was not ecstatic over the fact that NBCU approached me through a shell company to buy the name, thus getting the brand for a much better bargain. I also was very unhappy when NBCU tried to claim they developed the “SyFy” name on their own, despite the fact that I had created it — and used it quite successfully — for more than a decade before, and had a very close working relationship with the SciFi Channel and its executives.

But I can’t blame NBCU. If I were looking to buy something big, I likely wouldn’t show all my cards, either. I mean, I consider myself a fair person, and I likely would’ve made a fair deal for the name. But not everyone is like that, and NBCU couldn’t risk doing that with me. It’s simply good business, and smart business, and Howe is definitely a smart and good businessman.

In terms of the name creation, it’s hard to fight the onslaught of a loud minority of genre fans who didn’t like the name, and then add to it that the name isn’t original. So I can understand why NBCU tried to cut me out of the game and not immediately acknowledge where “SyFy” came from. It really created some animated discussion about who really created the name, where it’s been used before (not really anywhere), and even the revelation of the negative tone the word has in Poland (and our readership in Poland is up since our name change to Airlock Alpha, by the way).

It was distracting, it was exciting. And in the end, the “SyFy” name and brand I created is something that is now a nearly household term, associated with success. How could I not be happy for Dave Howe? How could I not be happy for the thousands of people who work for Syfy? How can I not be happy for the cast and crews of all the great shows Syfy airs?

While some might say the success is all about the name — and trust me, I would love to say that, because it would only make my ego bigger than it already is — the fact is, the success of Syfy is really about the people behind it. The channel is committed to making quality shows (please give “Caprica” a second season), and they have one of the best television development minds in the business in Mark Stern, someone I highly respect and admire.

So blow out that single candle, Syfy, and enjoy the celebration. Know that this isn’t something for the now … it’s the beginning of an amazing future.

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Could they be a Rut-ro! Shaggy
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