Monday, March 16, 2009


At its upfront presentation to advertisers in New York, the Sci Fi Channel will announce today that its new name will be SyFy. Dave Howe, president of the 16-year-old network, said he was hoping to get the best of both worlds: “We’ll get the heritage and the track record of success, and we’ll build off that to build a broader, more open and accessible and relatable and human-friendly brand.”

In other words, Howe thinks by changing the name the network will change the perception of its demographics, i.e., geeks (which would include me, my brother, sister, cousins, and millions of other people). Mr. Howe said the new name came from “how you’d text [SciFi].” The new name “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.” The obvious response? WTF

Literary agent Colleen Lindsay had some funny responses to the news of the name change on her blog and twitter: “ABC network announces rebranding as OMG,” and “NBC rebrands itself with the network ID of FAIL.”

Does rebranding really work? TLC used to be “The Learning Channel” and changed its name to the TLC acronym when the Discovery Channel purchased it in 1991. But the name change coincided with the change in programming away from educational and instructional and towards popular consumption and mass-marketing and finally reality-drama and interior design. The Nashville Network changed its name to TNN in 1998 with its change from country music related programming toward sports-entertainment such as the then WWF (now WWE), NCAA basketball, the now defunct XFL (“rival” league to the NFL), and off-network sitcoms and dramas. The name was changed to Spike TV in 2003 to sever all ties to its past, and promoting itself as a network for young adult males.

If TLC and Spike are any example, name changes are necessitated by a dramatic change in the theme of the network's programming. A network's demographics would dramatically change as a result, similar to when a radio station changes formats. That’s not the case for SciFi, or rather, SyFy. I don’t know what the media and audience response will be to the name change, but one will definitely be: LOL.

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