The SyFy Re-Branding Hasn’t Helped Them One Bit

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”?

23 thoughts on “The SyFy Re-Branding Hasn’t Helped Them One Bit”

  1. Let’s see…

    Take a person who thinks his crap doesn’t stink. Add to that the delusion that he has godlike powers. Wrap it in an ego the size of a small planet. Subtract enough intelligence to drop them below the average mark. Now you have an advertising executive — a person that by all rights should still be working at a used (oops, I mean “pre-owned”) car lot or selling overpriced flat screen TVs to clueless shoppers. The name “Syfy” stinks of a lame-brained ad exec who is too proud of himself by half. That the network agreed to this shows you why salesmen in the media world should never rise to the level where their decisions mean anything.

  2. Actually, the biggest reason behind the name change is that they were unable to trademark Sci Fi.  Imagine the uproar if they were able to trademark that.  I’ve got this vision of trademark lawyers jumping from their orbital platforms, firing litigation-pulse rifles into SciFi conventions and SciFi book publishers everywhere.  It was the “technically correct” move to make, despite being a goofy looking/sounding name.  

  3. Yeah, the name change itself wasn’t to bring in ratings, it was just part of a larger exersize to bring in new people. You’re looking at the outside image, rather than content. 

     

    Consider that 2007 was one of their biggest years, there’s a couple of reasons behind that: Tin Man aired, which brought in something like 6 million viewers for that one event alone. SG-1 was cancelled, and Battlestar Galactica was doing okay in the ratings – Season 4, which aired in 2008, saw increases in their ratings as well as a whole. Compare the ratings to SG-1 and SGU, and you’ll likely find that there’s not all that much difference in the ratings there. 

     

    The big thing is the movies, I think – I know some of their more recent original films have been gaining a considerable amount of viewers on each outing. 

     

    This has been talked a lot about on the podcast and widely around the internet – I’m not sure why it’s still a problem.

  4. I wonder if it really has been a failure for them.  What did they make in advertising revenue?  That’s the key metric.  If by changing the name they could attract more ads or new clients then it was a success.

    Sure, ratings drive ad revenue, but they aren’t the only factor.  Competition matters too.  If there are more people desiring to advertising on the new, less geeky channel then they might win on that front even if the ratings themselves stay the same.

  5. Can’t imagine why they’re hurting? Well, I can.

    Season length of the best programming (Eureka, Warehouse 13, etc.) is so short, you just get used to the characters, then they’re off air forever.

    And who’s the brainiac that thinks WWE is a Sci-Fi show? Are you kidding me? Send that to Spike or one of those sports channels. It’s not sci-fi.

    And a James Bond marathon on Thanksgiving weekend?? Again, ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Who defines James Bond as science fiction?

    SyFy is a yawner…

  6. Based on personal observation, someone decided those gains in female viewers weren’t important, because so far most of the movies shown on Siffy since the name change are so blatantly targeted to that holy 14-34 male demographic they might as well carry a label that no one with two X chromosomes need bother.

    As for all the reality shows, that’s simple economics. They’re cheaper to produce.

    Caprica, in the end, just wasn’t engaging. The pacing was glacial, and there was far too much focus on all the character angst over dead children and getting them back. By the time things finally started picking up speed, it was too late. I honestly got the feeling the writers weren’t quite sure what they were supposed to do with the storyline, so they tossed ideas in until a few stuck.

    The same, sadly, applies to Haven, which may be partly blamed on the original source material. Given all the Stephen King tales available that would have easily adapted to the format, they opted to snatch a few details from an obscure one then try to build on it. Didn’t happen. It, too, has picked up pace, but the storyline is rapidly devolving into silliness. Exploding police chiefs? Please.

  7. This link from their advertising agency states they saw growth in 2009 – http://www.prophet.com/impact/projects/syfy

    According to an SNL Kagan in the NY Times, SciFi made the following revenue

    2006: $394.6M on 95.2M subscriber households

    2007: $392.7M on 93M subscriber households

    2008: $423.9M on 88.2M subscriber households

    I’d be curious to know how this has changed, if at all, in 2009.  However, a macro-factor in 2010 numbers is that overall subscriptions are down (mostly due to the economy.)

  8. Syfy should merge with Lifetime and create the Urban Fantasy channel: UF.  Every female show star will have a tramp stamp and a huge gun or sword.  Wouldn’t that be cool??

     

  9. Umm, what’s wrong with geeky? ;) “SyFy”, pronounced “seefee” by my friends, is a WAY more geeky name than SciFi. If they are wanting to move away from scifi genre shows, then just change the name entirely. I guess there really isn’t any truth in advertising anymore. Side note @Paul NYC: LOL b/c you are dead on!

  10. Maybe some quality programming would help. Crappy reality shows, wrestling, grade z monster movies are the norm. And when they do attempt something of quality-PJ Farmers Riverworld or Ursula LeGuins A Wizard of Earthsea-they botch it.

  11. Actually, the change from “Scifi” to “Syfy” was primarily because “Scifi” is too generic to trademark or brand.

    Combined with the desire to branch out beyond speculative fiction programming, I’m sure there was some groupthink rationalization going on, driving this decision and new direction.  But I’m also sure that if they’d changed the name to something different, something reflective of USA Lite, things might have gone better. I know my rage factor wouldn’t have engaged at all  :)

    I’m a huge fan of USA Network… I loved Dead Zone and The 4400, and I wonder what their numbers were for times when those shows aired on NBC… the experiment to shift Psych (and Monk?) to NBC to see if those ratings would carry over was pulled rather quickly despite high ratings on USA.  I also think that Burn Notice and a few other shows might have died early deaths had they been on NBC to start out with.

    But copying USA isn’t the full answer, especially given their good track record with miniseries. Is it too early to wonder if they’re still trying to figure out what direction they want to move in?

    Either way, the scifi niche is too small for there to be a happy single location with successful programming, as long as execs expect a show to be a blockbuster from Week 1 like feature films perform. The alternative is either we get used to disappointment, or we hope DVR and streaming technologies evolve to the point where we can program a channel of our own using entertainment on demand.

    And until ratings for non-live viewings are properly counted, no one’s really going to know the truth about who’s watching what, and when. You’d think advertisers would want more clear data on those numbers.

  12. I only watch one show on their entire network…SGU.  And it’s not a particularly good show at that.  Obviously I’m a huge science fiction fan (and have been for about 35 years).  I would be watching that channel continuously if they knew what science fiction was.  Even old science fiction.  So many great old shows that they never show.  =(

    And the whole midseason breaks that these shows take it just idiotic (SGU is coming up on another).  If you want to spread the series love around a bit just put in some 2-3 week gap between some episodes.  Taking if off the air for 6 months is just ridiculous and is bound to cause viewers to never come back.  I can’t believe how stupid these programing directors are.

  13. NBC Universal uses Syfy as a dumping ground. It has a combination of programs that conflict with each other instead of reinforcing each other. The audience for the wrestling, “reality” shows & monster-of-the-week movies is different from the audience for the SF & fantasy. Whether you liked Caprica or not, no question the audience was different from the 1 for horror movies made for the direct-to-DVD market. SyFy should be folded. The SF & fantasy shows would go to USA or the rights sold to other companies. A new channel would get the bulk of the current Syfy line-up as well as the WWE currently on USA.

    The audience for SF & fantasy probably isn’t big enough to support a channel but the audience for good dramas & comedies is big enough to support lots of SF & fantasy. 98% of the print fiction I read is SF & fantasy, but the great majority of the film & TV fiction I watch is not.

  14. The quality of shows is low and they show the same “Grade D-” movies every weekend. There is NOTHING drawing me to watch, other than “Warehouse 13″ every now and then. SyFy (SciFi) channel has been a major, major disappointment since it’s inception. Needless to say, if they can’t get us SF diehards to watch, who the hell are they getting?

  15. For me, SyFy (and its predecessor, scifi) was permanently turned off after the cancelled Farscape. I won’t rehash those reasons here. But I loved that show like few others, and felt it was classless the way that whole mess played out.

    I did right them a nice long letter and politely explained my reasons for no longer watching their channel and then I was done with them. I missed StarGate, BSG and many others I would have loved to caught in the original runs as a result. But I had my principals and did my best to stick by them.

    In the past few months I figured the time was right for me to call off my blacklisting efforts. I’m pretty sure they learned a harsh lesson. I had been watching Eureka and Warehouse 13 via DVD or iTunes and began watching them as they aired. Despite the compulsion I felt to turn the channel out of duty to Farscape I managed to watch the episodes.

    I’ve realized now that I haven’t forgiven them, I don’t trust them, and I too hope they fold and bring back some real science fiction programming.

    Anyone remember that awesome news show they used to air that had Harlen Ellison give commentary every week. How great was that?

  16. In the past days, SciFi was okay. Farscape, BSG, the Stargate franchise (which lost me early on, but not so for others), some of the mini-series, and even the occasional made-for-network movie. But there has been a long, slow slide, which has only been underscored by the name change. Bringing wrestling to the channel was the nail in the coffin for the channel being even remotely geared towards SFF viewers and fans; which is sad, if you think about how the general market for SFF-geared media has been on the rise, especially in movies.

    Summer sums it up well: there are good SFF offerings elsewhere, which only underscores SyFy’s SFF programming weakness. When the genre sandbox was smaller, they could get away with crappy network movies and 50/50 programming; now, with more genre options, it’s easier to go somewhere else for decent programming.

    SyFy has basically become one of the old UHF channels that you only watched when nothing else was on on Sunday morning and the rabbit ears were set just right.

  17. @Patrick Hester: 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.

    I would slightly reframe things here and suggest that Caprica was never truly embraced by SyFy. In effect, SyFy did its best to “kill” the show (a la Fox and Serenity) with that 6-month break between episodes — which happened right at the time Caprica was really pushing the story forward and keeping a fairly stable viewership (as your numbers show).

    Is anyone surprised that viewership dipped after such a long (and inexplicable and unnecessary) absence of the show? Then SyFy changed the night it aired Caprica (again, a la Fox and Serenity).

    I am a BSG fan who has wholeheartedly embraced Caprica, but my open arms have been frustrated by SyFy’s treatment of the show. At least here in Canada, SPACE is still showing the episodes (finale is tonight!), and the channel devotes “talk show time” to Caprica after each episode. So, in this respect, yes, SyFy has failed … and miserably so.

     

    @Elizabeth Burton: Caprica, in the end, just wasn’t engaging. The pacing was glacial, and there was far too much focus on all the character angst over dead children and getting them back. By the time things finally started picking up speed, it was too late. I honestly got the feeling the writers weren’t quite sure what they were supposed to do with the storyline, so they tossed ideas in until a few stuck.

    I respectfully disagree with this assessment of Caprica.

    Caprica is currently, in my opinion, probably the best show on TV. It’s an incredibly intelligent, provocative, insightful, and challenging show — in all same ways as BSG, but perhaps even moreso. As well, the high level of the writing and of the performances has been wonderfully consistent, if not at times breathtaking. Moreover, the production values and cinematography and editing have been superb throughout. (As a great example, see the sequence from a couple of episodes ago, when the cutting between Mary-Beth, Clarice, and Amanda, and the types of shots used, created incredible tension and uncertainty leading up to … a murder.)

    In discussing Caprica with a friend recently, we came to agree that part of the show’s power and distinctiveness resides in its female characters. In fact, the female characters are essentially the heart of the show, and in ways we don’t really see elsewhere on TV these days. This is a bold decision by the producers and writers of Caprica

    The notion that “The pacing was glacial” — which I see mentioned frequently — is, to my mind, a misrepresentation of the show: rather, the pacing has been purposeful, focussed, and Shakespearean in its steady bringing together of characters, story threads, backgrounds and backstories, and themes/issues.Caprica‘s pacing is certainly not BSG’s pacing, but then it’s a wholly different kind of TV show with wholly different aims.

    What exactly does “picking up speed” thus mean? I got the sense right from Episode 1 that the producers and writers knew precisely what they wanted to do with the storyline. Each character’s arc has been carefully structured; each episode has done exactly what good TV — and good storytelling — should do, in moving both individual and wider plots forward, resolving some storylines while introducing or complicating others, establishing elements of the world(s) of the story, and creating or heightening conflict between characters (on several levels at once).

    In the end, I’m wondering if more networks shouldn’t embrace the HBO model of 12/13-episode seasons, such as we see with Dexter or True Blood and saw with The Wire. The 20/22-episode model perhaps just doesn’t work for every kind of TV show/series, and going the HBO route would likely produce higher quality TV overall (though as to revenue and the like, I can’t say) … not to mention “save” shows such as Caprica.

  18. First off – thanks to everyone who commented!

    Second – some direct replies:

    Shane – The trademark thing was a factor in the name change, but keep in mind that in International Markets, they are still called The SciFi Channel – no name change.  And there was a lot of talk from the network itself about diversifying the programming to bring in a broader audience.

    jlabeatnik – *raises fist in Farscape solidarity*

    Andrew Liptak – The name change was the focal point of a broader plan to shed the geeky image of the channel, diversify the programming (content as you put it), bring in new viewers and score better ratings.

    Scott Shaffer – Keep in mind if the ratings aren’t there, neither is the advertising revenue.

    Pat & Mike Johnstone – The question of season length has come up before and often.  Some have suggested that maybe we should just go to the British model of 13 and out.  It seems to work really well for them and SciFi fans on this side of the pond devour those shows even when a series is exactly 13 episodes and then its done.

    Elizabeth Burton – if what you say about female gains is true (that no one cared about it), that’s just plain sad.

    Summer – (Thanks for stopping by!) The trademark is important, but, again, I point to the fact that in some international markets they are still The SciFi Channel because ‘SyFy’ doesn’t translate.

    I, too, love some USA stuff (Burn Notice, In Plain Sight, that MacGuyver Doctor show).  I think the NBC experiment didn’t go so well.  Ratings on cable can be a lot lower and still be considered a ‘hit’.  Similar to ratings on The CW…  OH, OH YEAH – I WENT THERE!

    I agree that a new ratings system needs to be adopted and paid attention to – so many people watch when they want to thanks to TiVo and other DVR systems – it’s ridiculous not to count that and online streaming in ratings numbers!  Like too many old media content providers, tv has not caught up to the technology people are using. 

    I think it would be a very different television landscape if they did.

    ~P
    @atfmb

  19. Ratings aren’t everything. If I can spend $200 million to bring in 1.27 million viewers, or $50 million to bring in 1.27 million viewers, chances are good I’m gonna take the second option. With a 75% drop in the budget, I’d even be willing to take a decent hit in viewership as long as my net revenue is up.

    Reality shows and monster movies are cheap to make compared to shows like BSG, Farscape, and SGU.

    There’s a curve, and with very, very few viewers, there’s no money to be made. But there’s a point at which spending more money to acquire more viewers meets diminishing returns, and it might be worthwhile to cut budgets and accept the number of viewers that brings.

    Scott Shaffer nailed it. Viewers may not be growing, but revenue is. And as http://www.prophet.com/impact/projects/syfy says, viewership’s not bad, either: 2009 was Syfy.com’s best year in its history, with 3.6 million unique visitors and 5.3 million video streams.

  20. It’s possible to have a TV channel that produces only entertaining schlock.

    It’s possible to have a TV channel that produces mostly entertaining”highbrow” entertainment (i.e. HBO).

    It is even possible to have — allowing me to stretch my standards a great deal — a TV channel that’s only occasionally higbrow and  entertainingly chlocky most of the time.

    But if one can’t even rise to THAT standard, well, then the channel deserves to go.

    —–

    However, I think the problems of a “science-fiction TV channel” go deeper than that of incompetence.

    There are inherent limitations in television as a medium — they clash with the possibilities of science fiction, constantly. Not just limitations of budget and special FX, but conceptual limitations.

    Quick: list everything you can do with SF in any other medium but NOT on a broadcast TV channel. (The list gets looooooooooooooong…) Then ask yourself: Why put up with these limitations at all?

     

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