There has been a great deal of hullabaloo online—in the blogosphere, on Twitter, on Facebook, etc.—about the announced name change of the Sci Fi Channel to “SyFy.” I spoke with Craig Engler, the Senior V.P. and General Manager of Sci Fi Digital about the reasons for the name change, and what their reaction to the uproar is.
The reason for changing their name in the first place, Engler said, was to get “something that was ownable,” and “to distinguish [their] brand from the category.” This has been widely reported and is really the only sensible reasoning, because why else would you change the name of something that’s currently successful? So why, then, didn’t they change the name completely, so it didn’t still sound like the genre whose fans love it so? That, Engler said, is because they “wanted to have [their] cake and eat it, too,” meaning they could tweak the brand just enough to allow them to trademark it but keep it close enough that it didn’t change their underlying identity.
Engler told me several times that they’d expected an uproar, that in fact the reaction was “a little more contained, honestly, than we thought,” and likened the situation to the noise made when the reimagined Battlestar Galactica was in the works and it was announced that Starbuck would now be a woman. This felt to me more like spin, despite his assertion that “whatever we changed the name to was going to get a very similar reaction.” I suspect they underestimated the amount of emotional investment science fiction fans had in the name of their genre in its various forms, and thus didn’t really expect us to react as we have.
I can’t speak for all fans, of course, but as for me, my main reason for caring about the name of the channel is that it is also the name of my favorite genre. If it hadn’t been for BSG and Eureka, I doubt I would have turned on the channel at all in the past four years. They’ve got some promising things coming up, including Caprica and Stargate: Universe, and Warehouse 13 has enough good people involved that it could live up to its fun premise. But until the folks at Sci Fi start making watchable TV movies and find something other than professional wrestling to fill airtime, they’re not going to have too many loyal fans among science fiction geeks no matter what they call themselves.
If you’d like to contact Engler yourself, he can be found on Twitter (where he is very responsive to queries) as @Craigatscifi. (Yes, he’s going to pretty much have to change it in July.)