Way back in March 2009, the SciFi Channel announced that it was changing its name to Syfy in an attempt to be ‘less geeky’ (this according to the president of the channel, David Howe) and to open up the channel’s programming to a broader audience.

I’ve talked, several times in fact, about how horribly stupid this whole thing was so I won’t rehash it all here and now. But I would like to talk about how the name change / re-branding hasn’t really helped them.

SyFy recently canceled Caprica. I was not a fan but I admit to being more than a little bit biased on the subject. I would’ve preferred another season of Battlestar with a more satisfying ending versus a prequel series (and according to the ratings, I’m not alone). I don’t think Caprica was ever truly embraced by the Battlestar fans, nor did it appeal to the broader audience SyFy was hoping to capture with their silly name change. The ratings for the show have steadily declined over time, with the March finale averaging 1.1 million viewers but the season 1.5 premier drawing just 889,000 (source: TVByTheNumbers). So, it was recently canceled. The last episodes will air in January, I believe.

If we look at the 2010-2011 season lineup remaining for the channel, there are 8 shows that fall under the ‘reality’ label, 1 science fiction show and 5 fantasy shows. I think that illustrates the channels dedication to moving away from the scifi programing it was founded on.

But how well is that change really doing for them?

In 2008, the SciFi Channel averaged 1.27 million viewers. That’s an improvement over 2007 (up 7%). In 2009 when they changed their name, they once again averaged 1.27 million viewers (source: Reuters). 2008 reflected a great year for SciFi – they had double digit growth in key demographics like female viewers (+12% among women 25-54, +14% among women 18-49 & +6% among women 18-34). (source: TheFutonCritic) but after the name change and the ‘broadening’ of their programming in 2009, all they managed was to hold onto what they already had in viewership.

Can you call that a success?

The Top 25 Basic Cable shows for the week ending November 21st doesn’t include a single SyFy Show. (Source: TVByTheNumbers) This cracks me up since Wrestling is in the top 25, but on USA, not SyFy.

Stargate Universe, which averaged 2.57 million viewers in its first 10 episodes in 2009 (source: Gateworld), managed to pull just 1.169 million for its latest episode, ‘Visitation’ (source: Gateworld). That’s a 14% increase over the previous week, but a huge decrease from 2009 which tells me that their ratings overall have gone way down from those first 10 episodes.

So again I ask – has the change of name and programming proved successful for them? My answer is: No.

Why? If I put aside my personal feelings about the silliness of the whole name change thing, which is always hard for me to do, and I just look at the ratings across the board – they aren’t showing improvement network wide. They are showing improvements with certain shows and maybe that’s all they really wanted. WWE Smackdown, the source of so much rage and frustration among fans, is averaging 2.69 million viewers every week (source: PWTorch). If SGU is managing 1.169 million viewers, Caprica is less than a million and Ghost Hunters, arguably one of the channels more successful shows ratings-wise is pulling in 1.755 million viewers, than WWE Smackdown is a raging success for the channel, beaten only by Warehouse 13, which averaged 3.4 million viewers for season 2 and Eureka, which hit a series high of 3.155 million viewers per week for the 2010 season (source: TVByTheNumbers.

But despite the gains of those individual shows, the channel as a whole has not managed to leverage the name and programing change to grow its overall audience. The audience for WWE Smackdown is not sticking around for Sanctuary (1.259 million viewers). Nor are they coming back to the channel on other nights to watch SGU, Scare Tactics, Fact or Fiction or Caprica.

It will be interesting to see what the overall 2010 numbers are for the channel. If they have not made significant increases, what will that say to the powers that be? Will they take it as a rejection of the overall plan and programming they hoped would turn them into a copy of the USA Network (ugh.)? If they do show increases over 2009, will they go further or just say they’re sorry and try something different?

Looking at the green-lit shows for 2011, I doubt they’ll change course. Three new reality shows plus the returning Merlin, Haven and an American version of Being Human doesn’t sound like changing course to me.

Come on, SyFy! Listen to the fans!

Queue Chicago’s “Hard to say I’m sorry”?

Filed under: TV

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