Hammer steps back from day-to-day control

Dave Howe has been beamed up to prexy of Sci Fi Channel, with longtime Sci Fi chief Bonnie Hammer stepping back from day-to-day control of the channel she helped build into a basic cable powerhouse.

Howe will now have direct oversight of Sci Fi’s L.A.-based original programming department, which had previously reported to Hammer. He’ll also control marketing, global brand strategy and the net’s rapidly expanding digital domain.

Hammer will still be involved in Sci Fi, but she made it clear that the network was now Howe’s to run.

“I’ve had my shot, and our team was able to take Sci Fi from basic obscurity to a No. 6 channel,” Hammer said in an interview Tuesday. “I’m still going to be a part of the process, but far more distantly. It’s time for someone else to have their fun and take it to the next level. I have tremendous faith in his abilities.”

Promotion marks a rapid ascent for Howe, who joined the NBC U cabler six years ago from the BBC.Howe started at the net as exec VP of marketing and brand strategy. He was upped to g.m. in 2004 and has helped oversee the marketing and development of programming such as “Tin Man,” “BSG” and “Eureka.”

Howe worked with Hammer and original programming chief Mark Stern to reshape the Sci Fi brand, making the network more appealing to a non-geek crowd. Cabler ended 2007 with its best ratings and revenue since its launch.

It also will no doubt increase speculation that Hammer could be poised for another promotion within the NBC U cable universe. She’s overseen USA and Sci Fi for four years now, paving the way for major growth at both cablers. And with Jeff Gaspin promoted last year to a bigger gig within the conglom, there’d be room for a new exec to just focus on heading up all of the Peacock’s cablers.

“I’m a happy camper, and they treat me very well here,” Hammer said of her NBC U bosses. “My assumption and my hope is that I will be around for a long time.”

Howe identified several major immediate and long-term goals, most of which revolve around expanding the Sci Fi brand and building revenue streams not directly connected to the linear network.

“This brand has so much more untapped potential,” Howe said. “My role is to really figure out how we take Sci Fi as a cable network and build it into more of an affinity lifestyle brand.

“As things stand, we’re primarily a cable TV brand,” he added. “In five years’ time, I’d love to be able to say that Sci Fi is no longer just a cable network but a category killer in videogames, mobile and the youth market.”

Howe said that by the end of that five-year frame, he’d like to see one-third of Sci Fi’s revenues coming from sources other than the cable channel. He also hinted that he’s been having talks with sister company Universal Studios about launching a movie brand linked to the network.

“I’d love for there to be a Sci Fi Pictures label out there,” he said, emphasizing that nothing was imminent.

Other priorities for Howe include:

  • International expansion. “At the end of 2007, Sci Fi was in 10 markets,” he said. “By the end of 2008, we’re hoping to be in 20 markets, and I think we might even surpass that.”

  • Digital. Sci Fi launched a tech-themed site last year and has plans for more specialty offshoots of its Sci Fi.com hub. “You’ll see us diversifying and spin off into more stand-alone websites,” Howe said, identifying men 18-34 as the target of Sci Fi’s digital love.

  • Replacing “Battlestar Galactica.” Signature skein is preparing to exit, and Howe, working with Stern, is keen to find the next big scripted success for the channel.

“We just screened two pilots,” Howe said. The WGA strike “has slowed us down, but it won’t stop our growth in 2008.”

Exec is also keen on continuing Sci Fi’s expansion into unscripted series, pointing to the success of shows such as “Ghost Hunters.”

While Sci Fi is now squarely Howe’s baby, he said he planned on continuing to work closely with Hammer.

“She will remain my boss, and she’ll also be a key adviser and mentor,” he said.

Howe joined Sci Fi in September 2001, originally serving as exec VP of marketing and brand strategy. He was upped to GM in 2004 and has helped oversee the marketing and development of programming such as “Tin Man,” “BSG” and “Eureka.”

Exec worked with Hammer and Stern to reshape the Sci Fi brand, making the network more appealing to a non-geek crowd. Cabler ended 2007 with its best ratings and revenue since its launch.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more