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NBC Abandons Former Brand, Former Fans


Sci Fi Network is latest in cable rebranding spree.

Later today, Dave Howe -- president of NBC Universal's (GE) SyFy Channel -- and stars from some of the network's series will ring the NASDAQ's (NDX) closing bell to commemorate the rebranding of the Sci-Fi Channel, which occurred this morning.

For true science-fiction fans, the celebration will seem as surreal as the applause that occurs even if the market drops 200 points.

Fans' ire has been high since March, when the network's remaining viewers -- already disillusioned by the addition of ECW Wrestling (WWE) and Braveheart to the programming schedule -- rolled their eyes after hearing of the name change. Any hope that the new season's lineup would return to the genre to which the channel was originally devoted was dashed in a torrent of corporate-speak.

Discussing the shift with TV Week, Howe said, "It made us feel much cooler, much more cutting-edge, much more hip, which was kind of bang-on what we wanted to achieve communication-wise."

Eloquently put. And it gets worse.

Tim Brooks -- who was an integral part of the Sci Fi Channel's launch -- confirmed suspicions that the network has been distancing itself from science fiction since the 1990s.

He told TV Week, "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."

Fittingly, Brooks made that comment just before the release of this year's Star Trek -- a film adaptation of the most unabashedly geektastic sci-fi series of all time. Earning $375 million worldwide, it clearly wasn't just a hit with basement-dwelling nerds.

But SyFy's shift toward a broader market is ultimately incidental. The main objective was always a unique, exclusive, and profitable copyrighted brand.

"We need an umbrella brand we can attach to new businesses: Sci Fi games, Sci Fi kids. It does no use to attach 'Sci Fi,' because there are hundreds of sci-fi websites and sci-fi publications. So it's changing your name without changing your name," Howe admitted.

The change also reflects some of the biggest rebranding efforts cable television has ever seen. Driven by a surge in ratings in recent years, cable-programming executives have been scrambling to lose the niche programming and focus on more mainstream fare.

Last year, the OJ-indebted Court TV was rechristened truTV (TWX) and took on a more global, gruesome-criminal-investigation focus: No longer bound to the courtroom, it can now rove freely over any muddy ditch, rusty oil barrel, or suburban basement in which a human body might be found.

Similarly, the formerly Hitler-centric History Channel is now shifting to the sort of UFO-themed programming once confined to Unsolved Mysteries -- a kind of history most teachers aren't aware of.

And A&E Network airs Gene Simmons: Family Jewels nearly around the clock, confirming that they no longer have any interest in either "arts" or "entertainment."

Even the Cartoon Network is about to roll out several live-action programs, for crying out loud.

While the Internet offers a vast array of online series in an unlimited variety of genres, networks are still unwilling to fulfill a viewer's penchant for something completely different. And, unless SyFy remembers the fans who originally made it popular, its dwindling audience will continue to associate the brand with something it didn't intend: unimaginative and forgettable programming.

Then again, they could always rename it Sigh Fi.

Join Hoofy and Boo for their unique look at rebranding:

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