SyFy President Dave Howe on “The Decision”, Video Interview

Decision 2009 sounds sort of like a post election year runoff. Instead, it’s arguably the most talked about strategic on-air rebrand move in recent memory to garner interest (and in some cases fervor) from the public. The blogosphere and Twitteratti have lit up: Sci Fi Channel’s own blog has over a thousand comments (mostly negative) and over 1600 Diggs. When was the last time joe public cared so much about channel branding? I checked the traffic on my blog this morning and sure enough, visitor search terms to this blog for “SyFy”, “Channel Branding”, “Rebrand” were all up over 200% from prior to the announcement at Upfronts last week.

(Did you know SyFy means “sludge” and is a “social disease” in Polish? Don’t worry, Dave & Team have got it covered- more on that later! Didn’t think you’d be learning Polish today now did you?)

Landor’s tongue twisty re-name (apparently) has got people calling it Si-ffy, Sy-Fee, and other strange iterations. I myself miraculously got it on my first try. Go me. No matter what the ultimate result, there is no doubt there is a huge swell of interest in the brand. For the first time, in a long time (can there be a first time in a long time?) consumers are thinking (and talking) about TV branding again. And that in itself, is brilliant.

So now that takes us to SyFy President Dave Howe. Here’s recently found video of him at the 2009 Upfronts explaining more about the decision to rebrand in a down market, why to rebrand at all, as well as the channel’s feelings about the core audience.

SyFy President Dave Howe

SyFy President Dave Howe

He also answered the critics directly by responding to some questions posted on the wire. Here’s the short of it:

Do you know there are more than 1,000 comments on SCI FI Wire about the new name and that almost all of them are negative?

Howe: Yes, and we’ve read them all and welcome the feedback from our viewers, good and bad. We’re incredibly lucky to have so many people who feel passionate about our brand, even when they say things that are critical about us. And, of course, we didn’t expect everyone to like our new name. One of the things that’s a constant about any new brand or a brand that changes its name or logo is that the initial reaction will always be “Why?” or “That makes no sense.” (And, yes, we knew the phrasing would not be quite as polite as that!)

We’ve done a huge amount of research over the years about changing our name, and we knew that not everyone would welcome it. But we believe our new name, Syfy, gives us the best of both worlds. It builds off of our heritage but still creates a unique and ownable brand name that we can use to separate our shows from everyone else’s and opens our brand to new viewers. We think the long-term effect will be game-changing. Other brands that people didn’t like or didn’t get at first include Wii, Hulu, TiVo and even Amazon and Google! That’s great company to keep. And there’s another beloved brand we re-imagined a few years back that at first everyone didn’t trust us to get right, and that’s a show called Battlestar Galactica!

Do you know what “syfy” means in Polish?

Howe: Yes, we were enlightened early on in the process that in Polish, “syfy” means everything from sludge, gross objects, articles without value, devices not performing according to specification, even a social disease! What a colorful language! Because we knew this ahead of time, we had already made the decision to keep the SCI FI name in Poland. But other international territories were overwhelmingly in favor of Syfy, and we’ll be implementing our new brand in all other countries.

Why did you change your name in the first place? What’s wrong with sci-fi?

Howe: There’s nothing wrong with sci-fi, and we’ve had 16 great years as the SCI FI Channel. We love sci-fi, which is why we’ve said we have no intention of abandoning our roots or our core audience. We intend to continue to develop and produce great sci-fi shows like the two upcoming series we recently greenlit, Stargate Universe in the fall and Caprica, the prequel to Battlestar Galactica, coming early next year. Plus we’re bringing back Eureka in July, Sanctuary in the fall and launching a brand-new sci-fi show, Warehouse 13, in July. We’re still the biggest producer of sci-fi shows in all of TV, and we intend to stay number one.

Why do you hate your core fan base? Don’t you know we helped make your network a success? Why don’t you want to be associated with us anymore?

Howe: This is a total misperception, and none of us at the channel have ever said this. As I’ve tried to stress in the first question, we love the sci-fi genre, and we love our passionate fans. And that’s why we continue to create shows we hope you’ll enjoy. And it’s why we’re always at Comic-Con every year, bringing all of our stars to meet the fans and speak on panels.

It’s worth repeating what I said in the press release for our brand evolution: “While continuing to embrace our legacy and our core audience, we needed to cultivate a distinct point of view with a name that we could own that invites more people in and reflects our broader range of programming.”

Then why did you say, “The name SCI FI has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular”?

Howe: We didn’t say this! This was a quote by a TV historian named Tim Brooks, speaking to TV Week, which has been mistakenly attributed to us by some people. That is not our view, and we wholeheartedly disagree with what Brooks had to say. He does not work for the network, and he hasn’t for more than 10 years.

Did you do any research about the new name with sci-fi fans?

Howe: Yes, we did extensive research with our core audience. Here are three quotes from sci-fi fans that are a good summary of what we heard:

“SCI FI sounds very generic, sounds basic. Syfy sounds cool, cutting edge, … the cool thing you want to be associated with.”

“It tells me that they are going to have different kinds of shows that are not just science fiction.”

So after watching and reading the interview, what do you think? Send me an email or comment below!

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14 Comments

Filed under branding, channel identity, industry news

14 responses to “SyFy President Dave Howe on “The Decision”, Video Interview

  1. Oze McCallum

    Well, as a long-time science fiction reader and viewer, I can seriously say that this is a stupid, stupid move.

  2. Jacob

    I, for one, love the change. It feels edgy. I think it’s one of those things that will grow on you over time. I must admit not having any creative except the new logo is probably hurting public perception. Once the glossy spots come out- I think things will change.

  3. Marissa Timberland

    The last time they went to a UK shop, DEJ did a number on the Animal Planet logo. 😦 What is that anyhow?

    On a logo plus note, I think the new logo really outshines the old one. It’s a nice evolution to watch.

  4. Jonathan Kramer

    Why all the hate? I quite enjoyed the rough/off-cuff video of Dave Howe. He seems like he has a solid grasp on this.

  5. Mary Testle

    My boyfriend got me into Sci-Fi originally, and honestly I think the change is a good thing. I don’t really get why people are so up in arms.

  6. Jason Mittleton

    I don’t hate it. I don’t love it. I do appreciate however- seeing Mr. Howe’s response to it all. I have a bunch of questions I’d ask him. I’ve been a huge fan of Sci Fi for sooo long.

  7. Mike Blake

    I don’t get it really. What’s going on with the programming there? Would love to know (as well as my friends) if more original sci-fi stuff is going to be coming out. Right now, the only thing we watch is BSG. The new logo looks nice IMO!

  8. Jake M

    Why don’t I ever get invited to those naming focus groups? I’d do it for free. On a more serious note, I think I’m the only designer at my firm who actually loves the name. Yeah, there I said it.

  9. Daniel

    I think its a bad move, but willing to give it some time.

  10. Ed Yang

    Dig the blog btw! Big fan. I think the new direction has a lot of promise. Wondering when we’ll start seeing some stuff on air?

  11. While I think the name is ridiculous, I really don’t care what the channel calls itself. What I care about is the content. The Sci-Fi channel has been slowly abonadoning its fanbase for years. My biggest fear with the name change is that it will be a final nail in the coffin.

    For years now, they’ve traded in classic and solid sci-fi programming for dreck like MANSQUITO. Who exactly is watching these made-for-tv movies? And professional wrestling?? They have NO grasp of their core audience was, and if they do, they obviously don’t want anything to do with us. Sure, they carried Battlestar Galactica, and it was one of the best shows on television. But they jerked the fans around with unbelievable break times between seasons, and even mid-season. It took A LOT of the momentum out of the show, and showed an incredible amount of disrespect towards the fanbase. I’m not upset at the name change – I’m upset at the channel executives. If you don’t want sci-fi fans to be your core audience, you should flat out say so, and by abandoning your branding, it’s more obvious than ever.

  12. I’m surprised to find the positive commentary about the “Syfy” rebrand here– and wonder if it actually comes from those who are viewers of the network, or just marketing folks. It’s clear that the goal by Dave Howe & crew is to further distance the programming from the Sci Fi Channel’s initial core audience base. Already, the addition of non-science fiction fare like wresting and gaming reality shows demonstrate an interest in “expanding” the audience to be more Spike and less Sci Fi. Problem is that the core audience is already getting turned off by such programs, and is liable to turn to other channels, particularly now that Sci Fi has said it wants to sit at the “cool kids table.” Rather than wasting their budgets to rebrand themselves, they should have been investing in better quality shows.

  13. The Sith

    This what happens when you cut taxes that would go to pay for public education, we turn out a new crop of Jack @$$ who think with their mendula oblongata that with their prefrontal lobes. OH it is shiny and hip what are you Paris Hilton with an IQ of 2. The educated people in american are a dying breed we used to be #1 in science and math for 50 years and now look at us, the world is laughing at us. There are fool who are worshipping the almighty dollar instead of focusing on good stuff. Sci-fi gave you the question “What if ?”

    SyFy gives you a STD that will never clear up, thank god the BBC has better scripted shows than neanderthals slapping each other on foam. Everyone at the networks are money grabbing whores with not two brain cells to rub together other than to make money now to buy their ivory back scratcher.

  14. Allen

    Stupid, He lists three comments that are all positive. Stupid move. Imagine using Battlestar as an example after they cut it short.

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