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Sci Fi Channel Has a New Name: Now, It’s Syfy

Published: March 15, 2009

FOR years, television viewers, journalists who write about TV and services that compile listings have wondered how to refer to a certain cable network: Sci Fi Channel? Sci-Fi Channel? SciFi Channel? SCI FI Channel?

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Fans of other-world TV know how to say their channel’s new name.

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Accounts, People & Miscellany (March 16, 2009)

The Sci Fi Channel’s outgoing logo.

Soon, to paraphrase Rod Serling — whose vintage series, “The Twilight Zone,” is a mainstay of the Sci Fi Channel — executives will submit for public approval another name, not only of sight and sound but of mind, meant to signal a channel whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead — your next stop, Syfy.

Plans call for Sci Fi and its companion Web site (scifi.com) to morph into the oddly spelled Syfy — pronounced the same as “Sci Fi” — on July 7. The new name will be accompanied by the slogan “Imagine Greater,” which replaces a logo featuring a stylized version of Saturn.

A channel called Syfy will, presumably, not be confused with SyFi Global, an information technology company; S.Y.F.I., the Summer Youth Forestry Institute; or Syfo seltzer, sold by Universal Beverages.

The tweaking of the Sci Fi name, introduced in 1992, is part of a rebranding campaign that seeks to distinguish the channel and its programming from cable competitors — 75 of which are also measured by the Nielsen ratings service.

The Syfy name is to be introduced on Monday to advertisers and agencies by executives of Sci Fi, part of the NBC Universal Cable Entertainment division of NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric.

The name will be revealed at an upfront presentation, when networks try to win commitments by advertisers to blocks of commercial time before the start of the next TV season. Cable channels will spend this month and next making upfront presentations; the broadcast networks will follow in April and May.

One big advantage of the name change, the executives say, is that Sci Fi is vague — so generic, in fact, that it could not be trademarked. Syfy, with its unusual spelling, can be, which is also why diapers are called Luvs, an online video Web site is called Joost and a toothpaste is called Gleem.

“We couldn’t own Sci Fi; it’s a genre,” said Bonnie Hammer, the former president of Sci Fi who became the president of NBC Universal Cable Entertainment and Universal Cable Productions. “But we can own Syfy.”

Another benefit of the new name is that it is not “throwing the baby away with the bath water,” she added, because it is similar enough to the Sci Fi brand to convey continuity to “the fan-boys and -girls who love the genre.”

Ms. Hammer and her successor as Sci Fi president, Dave Howe, said they had sat through many meetings over the years at which a name change was debated.

The principal reason the idea kept coming up, Mr. Howe said, was a belief “the Sci Fi name is limiting.”

“If you ask people their default perceptions of Sci Fi, they list space, aliens and the future,” he added. “That didn’t capture the full landscape of fantasy entertainment: the paranormal, the supernatural, action and adventure, superheroes.”

That became more important as Sci Fi expanded its program offerings into those realms, Mr. Howe said, with series like “Destination Truth” and “Ghost Hunters.”

And a shorter, more memorable name is more readily “attached to new businesses,” he added, like movies, video games, mobile content and additional channels overseas.

The Syfy and syfy.com names were developed by an internal team at Sci Fi along with Landor Associates, a corporate and brand identity consultancy that is part of WPP. Its brevity echoes the one-word names of other NBC Universal cable channels like Bravo, Chiller, Oxygen and Sleuth, not to mention channels owned by other companies including Flix, Fuse, Logo, Starz and Versus.

“The brand needed a little refreshing,” said Steve Mandala, executive vice president for cable ad sales at NBC Universal, who will be among those promoting Sci Fi — and Syfy — at the upfront presentation.

The change is being made from strength rather than weakness, he added, in that “the underpinnings of the network are terrific.”

According to SNL Kagan, a media research company, Sci Fi had 95.2 million subscriber households last year, compared with 93 million in 2007 and 88.2 million in 2006. SNL Kagan estimated ad revenue for Sci Fi at $423.9 million last year, compared with $392.7 million in 2007 and $394.6 million in 2006.