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 V.18 No.13 | March 26 - April 1, 2009 

Idiot Box

SyFy, WTF?

When rebranding goes horribly wrong

In what must go down in history as one of the most misguided attempts to come up with a newer, “hipper” image, the Sci Fi Channel is changing its name. Starting July 7, the longtime cable network will be known as ... drum roll, please ... SyFy! Yeah. Exactly. Huh?

“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,” network president Dave Howe said in an official statement last week. Rumors have been bouncing around the Internet for some time now saying executives at the genre-centric network aren’t so much interested in, you know, the whole sci-fi thing. For some time now, the network has been sneaking unrelated content into the lineup—from supernatural reality series like “Ghost Hunters” to gameshows like “Cha$e” to that brief, misguided flirtation with “Extreme Championship Wrestling.” The principal reason the name change idea kept coming up, Mr. Howe said, was a belief that, “the Sci Fi name is limiting.” Sure. It’s a frakkin’ albatross around your neck, Dave. I mean, look at ESPN. It must suck that they have to show sports all the time and can’t cut loose with a nice runway fashion show every once in a while. Apparently, Sci Fi’s—sorry, SyFy’s—idea of a new identity is to have less of one.

Even worse, Howe told the trade publication TVWeek that feedback from focus groups composed of 18- to 34-year-olds indicated that “SyFy” was the way many of them referred to the network in text messages. Yeah. Right. I can just imagine some goatee-wearing Madison Avenue type pocketing his consulting fee, snickering into his shirtsleeves and telling Howe and his cronies, “Oh, yeah, kids absolutely love the Sci Fi Channel. It’s all they talk about. They text and Twitter their friends, or homies, about it all the time. Only ... um, they call it ‘SyFy,’ because ... well, they save the effort of typing one whole letter that way. Plus, you know, it’s way more radical that way. Kids love things that are radical and/or extreme ... to the max, dawg!” Being a bunch of out-of-touch sixtysomethings, Howe and his fellow boardroom types bought the pitch hook, line and sinker.

The funny thing is it’s not even any different. It’s just a misspelled version of the previous name. The only good argument for it is that it now allows the network to trademark the name. Sci Fi is too common a term, but SyFy is unique. (Well, now that Sci Fi paid the website formerly known as SyFy Portal a massive undisclosed sum, it is.) That’s why you see lots of “unique” words like Kleen and Gleem and Luvs and Lite Beer in advertising.

Still, it’s a silly decision. Imagine if Comedy Central rebranded itself as ROTFLOL Network. Sure, it’s hip and trendy; but in five years, it’s gonna sound idiotic. What if MTV had listened to trendmeisters and gone to an all-Macarena format in back in 1993? What if Wendy’s had actually changed its name to “Where’s the Beef?” in 1984? How sick of that little catchphrase would we be by now? Trendy things are, by their very definition, short-lived. But who are we to argue against trends here at the Alibi ... or should I say, the new and improved Alyby?

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