Network rebranding itself in hopes of expansion

NEW YORK — Raise your hand if you love syence fyction.

The Sci Fi Channel will rebrand itself Syfy on July 7, to the amusement and consternation of many in geekdom, with the net’s execs now hoping to spread their wings a little further.

Plans for the future include additional expansion into other countries, jumping from 15 to a projected 50 by the end of the year; a Syfy Games division that includes a partnership with vidgame company Acclaim; and a new Syfy Kids venture.

The net’s search for a new name dates back years. Net prexy Dave Howe says that a variety of factors went into the decision, not least of which was the company’s previous inability to trademark its own name (Sci Fi is used commonly enough that no version of the company’s name — not Sci Fi, Sci-Fi or SCI FI — was eligible for trademark).

But there’s a dweeby stigma behind the term that, Howe observes, scares other nets as well.

“If you listen to anyone (who works on the ABC show) describe “Lost,” the letters S-C-I-F-I are never used — they’re ashamed of them, because they’re probably one of the most widely accessible shows around.”

The fear of pigeonholing has dogged the net for a while. The only barrier in the way of the new name was science-fiction website “SyFy Portal,” which recently sold its domain name to an undisclosed buyer and is now called “Airlock Alpha.”

Nevertheless, the net isn’t exactly running away from its fanbase with its new slate of programming: “Warehouse 13″ boasts a geek-friendly “X-Files”-style premise involving two FBI agents assigned to “a warehouse in the middle of nowhere,” as Howe puts it. “It’s bang in the middle of where we believe our brand needs to live,” he said.

Other upcoming shows include “Battlestar Galactica” spinoff “Caprica” and “Stargate Universe,” the third live-action installment in the “Stargate” TV franchise (starring Robert Carlyle).

“Warehouse 13″ will be the “light switch” for the rebranding and will premiere the day the rebranding takes effect.

There are plenty of perils to expanding during a recession, but Howe said that the net’s partnership agreements, like a deal with Acclaim to develop two games a year that Syfy will have the option to develop into TV shows, have helped to offset much of the risk.

“Some of the conversations we’re having now are conversations that we couldn’t have had if we’d been talking during a time when everyone could expand on their own,” he said.

Reaction to the rebranding announcement has been mixed (“Wired” quoted some “Battlestar” slang in asking “What the Frak Are They Thinking?” on its GeekDad blog), but not totally negative — the sci-fi stigma irritates plenty of fiction authors as much as it worries net execs.

“I like that a speculative-fiction/weirdshit TV channel even exists,” posted prose and comicbook scribe Warren Ellis, who worked on the never-aired “Superhuman” for the net. “So obviously I hope it works out well for them. Equally obviously, there’s some nerdstorm backlash on the way.”

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