Mar 18 2009

Sci-Fi Channel becomes "Siffy"

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Okay, it's Syfy. But that doesn't change the fact that this is re-branding to take the stigma out of old thinking. This is "African-American" instead of "Negro" or "Black". This is "IT" instead of "Computer Guy." This is political correctness bullshit instead of facing the truth. Science Fiction has the "S" word in it. And we, as Americans are anti-science.

Nobody is rushing to re-brand the Christian Broadcast Network (CBN) as "Cabin TV". Nobody wants to Call BBC America the "Lionheart Network". And yet, The Science Fiction Network was almost straight out of the gate called the Sci-Fi Network. Admittedly, "Science Fiction" is a mouthful and most people will recognize Sci-fi as as an abbreviation. But let's be serious, is sci-fi so fringe?

Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch offers an explanation. Their conclusion is to accept the diss and suck it up. I say differently. I am, at the conclusion of Battlestar Galactica's final season giving up on "Siffy". I am boycotting the channel.

I see this as a classic case of a company that has a product they don't understand. Here is a network run by people who don't like science fiction. They don't read sci-fi, fantasy, and comic books (and likely don't read much besides Variety Magazine). They don't understand or like their viewers, and see the channel as some sort of red-headed-stepchild that they dump those "silly sci-fi things" into.

They have been fooled because their audience has slowly become a bunch of dope-smoking 20-somethings who watch the bad movies and laugh or who drop acid or do some X and tune into the Twilight Zone Marathons because they are trippy. But this isn't the audience they could have. And it isn't the audience they want.

They see this as a way to capture the hipster money-bearing job-hopper who is paying too much for his car and his lifestyle. They want the 30-40 year-olds who have steady jobs and 0.5 kids and another on the way and who consume mainstream (and cheap to produce) entertainment like American Idol and Who Wants to be a Supermodel.

And what they are ignoring is the over-educated 20-50 year-olds who either own their own business or are gainfully employed, who own their own homes or are living in a stable home (Mom's basement) who has a disposable income that is an order of magnitude above their expenses and to whom Media is a companion.

If they were to provide the latter with steady decent programming and an avenue to purchase tie-ins like extras, downloads, box-sets, figures, collectibles, special live events and contests. Feed him marketing in the form of interstitial and relevant advertising and if they were to adopt some of the marginal shows from big networks as 'pet projects' and look at the media as means of perpetuating a license to sell their audience every gee-gaw under the sun (which they WILL buy). THEN we would have a good Science-Fiction Network.

If anyone reads this (fat chance), and you have the money (even fatter chance), start a new network called "Unlimited Imagination Network (UIN)" and feature good sci-fi and fantasy shows. They don't have to be great shows, just good ones. Negotiate your broadcast licensing to include revenue on tie-in products for shows where you are showing them exclusively. Show programs like Hercules, Xena, Highlander, Farscape, Quantum Leap, Sliders, Journeyman, Henson's Storyteller and that list was just off the top of my head.

Rather than show the show every day at a specified slot, instead do them as 'event' programming. Make people come to you to see things that either aren't on DVD or or difficult to find. Show them three episodes during prime time every night in a week (for a thirteen episode run). And pad them with interviews, extras, behind-the-scenes and the sorts of stuff you find in the DVD extras sections.

Use that prime content (the extra stuff) to do your advertising in. I'd suggest an interstitial ad, like QVC with memorabilia from the show or official licensed products like T-Shirts and action figures. Run that in the left third of the screen with your extras running on the right. True fanboys(and girls) won't fast-forward through extras to get to a program they've already seen. But they will watch that show if the experience can be shared.

For a small fee ($0.99 a show?), let the folks who have Internet download commentaries or stream a live commentary to watch during the program. Have a twitter feed (moderated, of course) scroll across the bottom of the screen.

Make UIN a community of people who want to share in their reverence for these shows. Show the folks at "Siffy" how to do it right.