Programming

Syfy's Two-Pronged Rebrand Strategy

Plans big marketing push; buys up negative domain names 6/21/2009 04:00:00 PM Eastern

NBC Universal's Sci Fi is giving away the Internet to promote its July 7 rebrand to Syfy, but is also taking away a few choice domain names in the process. The cable outfit will promote its rebrand with a flurry of marketing initiatives, including giveaways of free wireless access at various locales in New York City (dubbed WyFy From Syfy, of course).

The rebrand, which executives hope will lift the network out of the stereotypical aliens-and-outer-space niche, has been two years in the planning. It is designed to give the network a name it can copyright that also embodies a broader programming slate, as well as an umbrella label applicable to attendant businesses, including Syfy Games, Syfy Films and Syfy Kids.

But for all of the careful planning, the name was met with no small amount of derision when it was unveiled at the Sci Fi upfront in March. “There was a feeding frenzy for a couple of weeks,” acknowledges network president Dave Howe. “We did brace ourselves for what we expected to be quite a deep backlash. But we were very proactive in getting out there and reassuring [viewers] that we were not dramatically changing directions.”

Sci Fi executives, however, know there are still detractors in the network's legendarily passionate demo. So they took pre-emptive measures, snapping up several negative domain names including SyfySucks.com. Some still got through the cracks, such as NoSyfy.com. That site inveighs against the network's “wrestling and ghost hunting” programs and conveniently supplies Howe's office phone and e-mail address.

Nevertheless, Howe says, “I haven't had an e-mail for two months despite the fact that my name is very prominent in chat rooms and on message boards. When we cancelled Stargate Atlantis, I had upward of 150 e-mails a day for six months. So the fact that I've had fewer than 20 e-mails in four months says to me that people really do understand why we're doing this.”

Manhattan will be the hub of Syfy rebranding events. In addition to year-long free WyFy at Union Square and Times Square, the network will construct an interactive Imagination Park at the north plaza of Rockefeller Center that will feature program-centric set pieces from July 7-12. The network also has signed on as a presenting sponsor of the Museum of Modern Art's Tim Burton retrospective in November.

Outside New York, plans include a three-minute on-air “brand film” tapping into the network's tagline “Imagine Greater,” and a larger presence at San Diego's Comic-Con.

The rebrand is timed to the premiere of the network's new drama Warehouse 13, which will bow with a two-hour pilot July 7 at 9 p.m. Starring Eddie McClintock and Joanne Kelly as Secret Service agents stationed at a top-secret government facility housing paranormal artifacts, it has echoes of The X Files and is the type of paranormal/investigation program that executives hope will attract a broad audience. And with several recent top-grossing films including JJ Abrams' Star Trek falling squarely in the science-fiction category, it's safe to say the genre has escaped its pigeonhole.

“It's a broad-appeal, mainstream entertainment genre,” Howe says. “That's what we're embracing with this rebrand.”

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