Forget about the mainstream

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I just read about the SciFi channel's idea to change its name to SyFy and make itself more mainstream. It seems that they want to separate themselves from the geeky, nerdy image of Science Fiction and be "cooler". My first thought? DOH! How stupid can they be?!

Yes, yes, I know that I am a geek and a lover of SciFi, and so perhaps you think that I'm biased. Perhaps the fact that I love Farscape, Battlestar Gallactica, and reruns of Star Trek counts as a point against me in this argument. It shouldn't be, because this isn't really a discussion about the SciFi channel, but rather about what's really going on in the world today.

In the early 90's people had maybe 50 maybe 100 channels to choose from on their local cable TV. Today, people have a bajillion channels from which to choose. The "mainstream" channels are suffering more and more from market fragmentation, and the "niche" channels are getting more and more attention.

Think about that for a moment. The "mainstream" market is shrinking and the "niche" markets are growing. So, which market do you want to be a part of right now?

In the article TV historian Tim Brooks says,

“We spent a lot of time in the ’90s trying to distance the network from science fiction, which is largely why it’s called Sci Fi. It’s somewhat cooler and better than the name ‘Science Fiction.’ But even the name Sci Fi is limiting.”

If there is a concern that your niche market has reached saturation, don't kick your loyal fans to the curb. Market your niche to a wider audience and show them how cool your little corner of the world is!

Here's the thing: I've always thought that The SciFi Channel was doing a good job of just that. The SciFi Channel has aired and even created some fantastic science fiction which has drawn audiences from beyond traditional "geekdom". The channel's female audience has been growing year on year because they have shows which are really well made, entertaining, and which include women as part of the core story line (Battlestar Gallactica, Babylon 5, Farscape, Stargate Atlantis, etc).

Friends who were discussing this article today were saying that the SciFi channel has already started to disenfranchise its core fan base by showing wrestling in a prime time slot. I'm not in the US, so I hadn't seen that, but it does seem like a pretty silly thing for the Science Fiction channel to do. Instead, the channel should be loving its fans, and building on that base.

They haven't asked for it, and certainly don't care, but I'll tell you my advice for the SciFi channel: They shouldn't just show reruns of a single show all day, but reruns of the best shows they've aired in their history. And they shouldn't just re-air old shows, because there is so much more that they can do to engage their audience. They could encourage interaction with their fans on the Net around those old shows in the same way that new shows do. And they don't have to pour tons of money into it, either, because those old shows already have active fandoms on the Net. They only have to give those active fandoms a little bit of coverage, a little bit of attention, so that they can grow.

The SciFi channel could have a web-relations person who spends time combing the 'Net for the best fan sites for each of the shows that they air. That person's job would be to make contact with the best sites and coordinate some sort of connection between the rerun slot and the website. They could offer to put the site's URL on the bottom of the TV screen at some point in the show. They could help set up online-offline tweetups, meetups, or fan gatherings.

There are a million things that they could do in partnership with their fans, really. What's especially great is that at least nine hundred ninety nine thousand of those ideas could come from the fans themselves. The fan sites would be thrilled because they'd get a huge increase in traffic, which can turn into revenue for them. The SciFi channel would win because it would have even more loyal viewers.

It's time to forget the idea of "mainstream". There is no "mainstream". There is a huge spectrum of different interests, lifestyles and loves in this world. If you've found a niche that you can serve, build on that. And when you've built on that niche, don't spit in your fans faces in order to reach some mythical "average joe". Love your fans. Talk to your fans. Listen to them.