Sci-Fi Storm

Full transcript of the Howe conference call on “SyFy”

by on Mar.26, 2009, under Television

There was a conference call last week with SFC president Dave Howe to discuss the new SyFy branding and all the questions people had. I have the full transcript available now.

GE NBC UNI NYC OVERFLOW

 

March 23, 2009

4:30 pm CT

 

 

Coordinator: Welcome to the SciFi Conference. All participants
are in a listen-only mode. If you would like to ask a question during today?s
call please press star 1. This call is being recorded for instant replay and
transcription purposes. I will now turn the meeting over to Mr. Dave Howe.
Thank you.

 

Dave Howe: Hello. It?s Dave Howe here and I think we should have
quite a lot of the SciFi Digital Network which is great. I just want to kind of
kick off by, you know, thanking you all for joining this conference call and
obviously to say to you that, you know, no holds barred here.

 

We want to be as open and honest and, you
know, have, you know, a good conversation about where we are so that you can
ask me, you know, the points that you?ve heard from the people that respond to
your sites and I can kind of respond on our behalf. So fire away.

 

Coordinator: Thank you. If you?d like to ask a question please
press star 1, please un-mute your phone and record your name clearly when
prompted; your name is required to introduce your question. To withdraw your
request you may press star 2. Once again to ask a question please press star 1.

 

Thank you. One moment please. It?ll just be
another moment for the first question.

 

((Crosstalk))

 

Coordinator: And our first question does come from Ken Gold with
Media Boulevard. Sir, your line is open.

 

Ken Gold: Thanks a lot. Hey Dave, thanks a lot for taking the
call. We really appreciate your time.

 

Dave Howe: You?re welcome.

 

Ken Gold: So the first question I have I guess what we?re
getting after, what I?m seeing out in the fan sites and kind of on the Internet
is the origin of the name Syfy, I mean, I think you probably know that, you
know, there was another really popular site out there using that name. And
there seems to be not a lot of recognition out there or at least a lot of
people are saying that NBC and the SciFi Channel is not acknowledging that. Can
you comment on that or…

 

Dave Howe: Not acknowledging what that…

 

Ken Gold: Syfy Portal…

 

((Crosstalk))

 

Ken Gold: Yeah, which is…

 

Dave Howe: I don?t think that?s the case that we?re not
acknowledging it. I think the, you know, how this – how our name came about, I
mean, we?ve been doing – we?ve been actively working on this brand evolution
for the last two years. And we?ve explored a lot of name options. And I think
at the point at which there are any short list of names the first thing we do
obviously is look at the URLs and look at whether any of the names are
trademark protectable.

 

And I think once we looked at alternative
names and we also looked at whether there was a way of taking ownership of our
existing name through, you know, an addition of extra letters or changing the
order of the letters I think once we settled on Syfy it became apparent to us
that, you know, the Syfy Portal existed.

 

And, you know, we haven?t, you know, we
haven?t not commented on that directly. And that?s a point of fact that Syfy
Portal is now (off our analog).

 

Ken Gold: Okay. Okay and just another question, a follow-up
here, if you guys are changing the brand name or changing the name it seems
like the last few years or the last maybe two or three years SciFi has really
gone beyond what – at least what I would call hardcore sci-fi, I mean, you?ve
kind of expanded into the reality shows and, yeah, some of those have a sci-fi
tinge but maybe like a State of Panic and, you know, some of the others which
are, you know, very good shows, I love the shows, Chase, for example.

 

And the wrestling stuff, I mean, it kind of
embraces more than just hardcore sci-fi. So if you?re looking at a brand why
just go with kind of a phonetic change of SciFi rather than I guess coming up
with something that embraces maybe what the network has really become over the
last few years?

 

Dave Howe: I think the honest answer to that actually is that we
didn?t come up with a name that we liked any better than what we?ve gone with
which was Syfy. Naming is an incredibly…

 

Ken Gold: Right.

 

Dave Howe: …incredibly tough exercise. And, you know, I?ve
been at SciFi for eight years, I?ve been in the TV business, you know, a
marketing head for about 20 years. And trust me the hardest and toughest thing
to ever get to is a name that everybody likes; it?s incredibly subjective. It?s
never going to solve all of life?s problems for you. There will always be
things that it does communicate, things that it doesn?t communicate.

 

But at the end of the day, you know, as you
rightly said, people watch content, people watch shows. And, you know, they?re
not going to be drawn to something or alienated from something necessarily just
because of the name. So, you know, we didn?t come up with a name – a short
listed name that we liked.

 

And just to your point about Syfy Portal,
the other thing actually which I forgot – the other point which I forgot to
make is we were able to secure syfy.com before we even entered into a
conversation with Syfy Portal. So although, you know, that name was taken in
relation to Syfy Portal, syfy.com was available and we secured that and very
early on this process.

 

Ken Gold: Okay thank you.

 

Coordinator: And once again if you?d like to ask a question
please press star 1. Once again that?s star 1 for a question. It?ll be just
another moment.

 

((Crosstalk))

 

Coordinator: Our next question comes from Meredith Woerner from
i09.com; your line is open.

 

Meredith Woerner: Hi. Thanks so much for doing this. I?m sorry my
phone cut out for a minute so please tell me if this has been answered already.
But I?m directly speaking to the letter that (Mitch Rubinson) wrote today about
Isaac Asimov approving the name SciFi Channel before it launched. And do you
think where they around today they would approve of the change from SciFi
Channel to the Syfy Channel?

 

Dave Howe: I honestly suspect not. I mean I wasn?t around – in
fact I wasn?t even aware of the genesis of the network and the name etcetera.
But I think when I read that piece and actually (Sally) who you know, head of
PR, passed it on to me, I think the thing that struck me most about it is I
suspect if we took them through the rationale as to why we were changing they
would probably get it because, you know, if you read that piece it kind of says
that when it launched it was launched as the science fiction channel
exclusively. And that it was primarily about space about technology and the
future and essentially Star Trek.

 

And I think that is something that, you
know, we in no shape or form want to get away from but I think what we want to
do is move to a position where we can earn, you know the broad sci-fi fantasy
landscape and include in there fantasy and paranormal and supernatural and
super hero and, you know, some of those speculative action and adventure. I
think that?s absolutely the object of this exercise so it?s about how do we
embrace the broader sci-fi fantasy landscape as opposed to how do we escape
from our past? That isn?t the object of this exercise.

 

Meredith Woerner: And…

 

Dave Howe: Meredith, by the way, we love what you?ve done with
the (Io9) logo. We think it?s very cute.

 

Meredith Woerner: The (Y09), yes. We have fun with it. Thank you.
Well I?m curious if you have any other comments about the letter that was
released today besides what, you know, the past members who are no longer with
us would think. Are there any more comments you have after reading that?

 

Dave Howe: No, I mean, you know, I just kind of made the point,
I mean, you know, if you look at – if you look at the range and diversity of
our programming on air, you know, we still have Star Trek on air, we have still
have Battlestar Galactica and Stargate Atlantis, soon to become Stargate
Universe.

 

But alongside that there?s Eureka, you know, we?re launching Warehouse 13, somebody earlier mentioned Chase, Estate
of Panic, you know, Who Wants to be a Superhero. You know, we have a very broad
range of content and the challenge that we have is if you talk to consumers who
don?t watch our channel the expectation and the anticipation around when they
do surf up the dials to SciFi is that all they?ll find there is Star Trek.

 

And clearly that isn?t something from a
branding perspective and from a future perspective that enables us to do what
we want to do which is becoming inclusive and bring more people in who we know
will enjoy a broader range of shows and hopefully we can kind of cross sell and
cross promote and cross convert to other shows once they come to us.

 

But the challenge for us is if they don?t
think that space opera is for them then they?re not going to come.

 

Meredith Woerner: Well thank you very much and we?ll let someone
else ask some questions and I?ll probably jump back in.

 

Dave Howe: Thanks Meredith.

 

Coordinator: And our next question comes from Ken Gold with Media Boulevard; sir, you line is open.

 

Ken Gold: Hi, thanks again. Now I?m not sure if there?s
something wrong with the conference when you go to ask a question it takes you
away for about a minute – a minute of silence after you put your name in so if
there?s a moderator they might want to make sure everything?s okay there.

 

Coordinator: Excuse me I just would let you know when you queue
up to ask a question your line – we do – we see your line however it?s quiet
until we can open your line to ask questions.

 

Ken Gold: Okay.

 

Coordinator: So thank you.

 

Ken Gold: Okay. Okay.

 

Dave Howe: So that means that when it goes quiet Ken and you
lose whatever I was talking about with the previous question.

 

Ken Gold: Yeah, yeah exactly. I can?t – and as Meredith just
said you can?t hear when you come back in you?re kind in the middle of you
talking again. So I?m not sure what?s been (announced) but it?s just different.
And I didn?t think you hung up on me I thought you…

 

((Crosstalk))

 

Dave Howe: …we wouldn?t do that Ken, although we are
incompetent when it comes to this technology. I?ll tell you there are five
people in here trying to figure out how to make this happen. So just bear with
us.

 

Ken Gold: Hey well – I?ve got three on my end setting up the
conference call so between us. Anyway on to the next question; I just wondered,
it seems like by the fact you?re doing this call today that I don?t know if
this is in response to – I have seen some I guess negative comments about the
name change, some kind of nasty, some actually pretty positive about it.

 

Are you tracking or is somebody at the
network tracking I guess kind of your core fan base response? And just looking
at how people were taking it?

 

Dave Howe: Yes we are tracking it. And, you know, we?re reading
all of the message boards and Twitter and we?ve got people basically monitoring
it all. And, you know, I get like a summary of what people are saying. And I?m
not, you know, I?m not surprised at all by the comments that we?re hearing. I
mean I think the, you know, the points I would make is that none of us
particularly like change; none of us like the idea of a new name.

 

I mean a lot of new names out there were
not particularly well received when they were announced. I mean, Nintendo Wii
was not exactly…

 

Ken Gold: Right.

 

Dave Howe: …great and Tivo and all the rest of those names. I
think the reason that we wanted to do this conference call today is because the
thing that – the thing that I want to say directly and I think I want to really
reinforce and really emphasize and the thing that disturbs me most about some
of the comments, but if I?m honest didn?t really surprise me, is that this is
not about abandoning our past, this is not about alienating our existing core
viewers because frankly, you know, we are still the sci-fi fantasy channel and we?ll
continue to be so.

 

And this is absolutely about embracing our
heritage and embracing our future and figuring out how we can bring even more
people into the camp. And, you know, the, you know, the thing that I think
disturbs us most was people, you know, as we expected saying well this is just
another, you know, opportunity to put more (ECW) on our air or this is another
opportunity to do even more reality.

 

That isn?t true. And, you know, recent
announcements, you know, we picked up Caprica, we?re bringing in Caprica and
it?ll launch in the New Year. We picked up Stargate Universe, you know, the
next exciting chapter of, you know, the longest running space opera I think in,
you know, TV history.

 

You know, this isn?t about, you know,
retrenching, this is about absolutely embracing the totality of not just our
core audience but actually a new audience in the future.

 

And actually the other point I would make
is when we – which was actually very entertaining is when – of course when we
announced that we were reimagining Battlestar Galactica that was not expected
(greeted) with delight by the fans. And, you know, we get that.

 

Ken Gold: Yeah, yeah, I definitely understand that. But that
being said doesn?t change give you an opportunity to embrace different things
or, you know, some of the things you mentioned more fully or do you really see
it just as a, I guess a continuation of your core and kind of expanding there.
I mean, it seems like…

 

Dave Howe: I think what it does do and actually in all that testing
we were sort of surprised and actually it confirmed what we wanted to do here
just this new name makes more sense of our existing range of programming. It
makes more sense if you put this brand on a Ghost Hunters or a Destination
Truth or Eureka because it doesn?t – because it doesn?t scream so loudly the
science fiction genre it makes more sense for me, you know, a program range
perspective.

 

So we were very excited to hear that. So,
you know, we do think it sort of gives us, you know, the best of both worlds.
It gives us – it keeps our heritage and it enables us to broaden and become
more inclusive and create a sense that this is a unique brand name that you can
expect a broader range of, you know, what we?re calling imagination-based
entertainment which is going to be everything from, you know, Caprica and
Stargate Universe to Warehouse 13 to Eureka, you know, to the kind of broad fun
human relatable aspect of the genre that, you know, we really want to embrace.

 

Ken Gold: Okay. And just since you mentioned Caprica a couple
of times, hopefully I can ask – just kind of a more or broader question not
about the specific topic here today but can you tell me – what was behind the
network?s decision or if it was the network to release Caprica on DVD – to release
the miniseries or the movie?

 

Dave Howe: I think it to some extent is an experiment for us; we
haven?t done this before. And I actually don?t believe any other cable network
has done this before. I think our audience in particular and, you know, you
will get this and perhaps all of you will get this is, you know, we have a very
techno-savvy, you know, pre-early adopter audience that is going to be
streaming shows, that is going to be downloading shows that really, you know,
is locked into that kind of 24/7 on demand digital world.

 

And it seemed like a valid experiment for
us knowing that we?re not going to actually launch the weekly series until the
New Year because obviously we have to go into production and, you know, write
the 13 episode script and shoot it and post-produce it etcetera. It seemed like
an opportunity for us to get the DVD out there early and also get it up on
iTunes so that people can kind of watch it, think about it, you know, pass it
onto the friends, tell their family.

 

And, you know, there?s the potential if we
get this right for there to be nine months of early momentum leading up to the
launch of the series in early next year. And that?s kind of a pre-marketing
window for us. So it?s a grand experiment but we?re very optimistic that it?ll
do what we want it to do which is actually introduce a bigger and broader
audience to Caprica when it launches.

 

Ken Gold: Okay great. Thank and we?ll try and give you some
of that early momentum there.

 

Dave Howe: Thank you (unintelligible).

 

Coordinator: And once again if you?d like to ask a question
please press star 1. That?s star to ask a question. Once again that?s star 1 to
ask a question. I?m showing no further questions at this time sir.

 

Dave Howe: Okay. (I understand) that we?ve answered a lot of
them. I mean, I think – I?m sure people have seen the Q&A which is on SciFi
Wire. You know, if anybody has any – there?s actually one just come back…

 

((Crosstalk))

 

Coordinator: Excuse me, Meredith has just queued up. I?ll open
her line.

 

((Crosstalk))

 

Coordinator: Meredith, your line is open.

 

Meredith Woerner: Great, thank you. I hope I didn?t interrupt
anyone, I?m sorry.

 

Dave Howe: You didn?t Meredith.

 

Meredith Woerner: Great. Okay so you talked a little bit about the
reality TV shows even though it?s not going to be heavy on that. I?m really
curious what you did with Battlestar Galactica on the Web series is changing
the brand going to open up for more Web series on the SciFi sites?

 

Dave Howe: That?s a very good question. And (Craig Engler) will
be delighted to hear you answer that question. I think this doesn?t change our
digital strategy. I mean, I think we, you know, when the economics are there we
really do want to embrace Webisodes. I mean we?ve done two rounds of
Battlestar, I think we did some early Eureka – three rounds of Battlestar –
somebody is holding up three fingers at me.

 

This is absolutely something we want to do
more of. And I think as we figure out how to monetize our digital sites and
figure out how to produce scripted shows in particular because as you can
imagine, you know, they?re extremely expensive to produce this kind of stuff.
That?s something that we absolutely want to do more of.

 

Meredith Woerner: Would you ever consider doing more completely not
inspired by any other series that are already existing but like a completely
original Web series that you keep true onto the SciFi Channel – I mean the
scifi.com?

 

Dave Howe: Sorry, what was the question? Would we ever do one?

 

Meredith Woerner: Would you ever, yeah, completely original not like
based off of another show or like a Web series from a show; would you ever
decide to create your own material?

 

Dave Howe: Absolutely in fact we have under (Craig Engler) we
have a bunch of TV series in development so (Craig) works very closely with
(Mark Stern) who runs our on air development team over in LA. And yes every –
literally every single pitch that comes in we work on. Sometimes we take TV
pitches and actually have kind of moved them over to the digital development
team because we think actually they might be a better place to start to kind of
germinate the idea online and then cross over to (either) back to TV.

 

But I think, you know, the – what we want
to get to in the future and that?s part of this rebrand is how do we become
more platform-agnostic because to us, you know, the TV screen is clearly
important but, you know, in this day and age a screen is a screen is a screen.
And I think certainly with convergence and, you know, with the fact that you
can watch TV series on Xbox and Playstation and all the rest of it the notion
of a TV show is somewhat anachronistic.

 

I think, you know, we need to get to a
point where we create things – stories and characters and intellectual property
that can start on any platform and migrate to another.

 

Meredith Woerner: And speaking of that what about the – I know there
was – been talk of a game or an (MMO) that also correlates directly into a TV
show and to an online. Could you talk about your plans for that at all?

 

Dave Howe: Yeah, we?re incredibly excited about that. That was a
joint venture deal that we announced last year with an incredibly smart
high-tech company called Trion Worldwide. And that?s a startup company that is
made up of some of the smartest and most talented executives from all over the
digital gaming industry worldwide.

 

You know, there are people involved who
came out of Blizzard, that came out of Electronic Arts, you name it. This is a
hand-picked team. And we have a joint venture to co-create a piece of IP, a
story and set of characters that will launch simultaneously as a
subscription-based global MMOG game and a weekly TV series.

 

And their technology which is unique and
state of the art, it?s a server-based technology which enables them to evolve
the characters and the story and the stories and the events in a game almost
simultaneously like a linear TV show. So on a weekly basis the stories and the
characters on the TV series can inform and influence the game and vice versa.
So it?s a truly interactive 24/7 kind of dynamic storytelling experience.

 

So when we launch that – and it?s probably
going to be towards the end of 2010, 2011 that?s going to be – no one will have
ever attempted this before so we?re incredibly excited about this.

 

Meredith Woerner: And then do you have any updates on how close you
are? I mean 2010, 2011 seems like a long ways away but, I mean, have you at
least…

 

Dave Howe: We do. We?ve hired a writer. We?re getting
dangerously close to announcing a title. And they?re at the script development
stage in terms of the TV pilot.

 

So I think within two, three months we?ll
announce some pretty exciting stuff about, you know, the setting and some of
the characters. But obviously the game – and you will know this, you know, MMOG
games are incredibly deep and incredibly expansive.

 

So, you know, they need to start work on
it, you know, two, three years out in order to create that sort of incredibly
rich world. And that?s kind of what they?ve been working on. So alongside that,
you know, we have to kind of figure out how to create some of the core elements
of that game and turn them into a TV series. So it?s a – no one?s really
attempted this before so it?s really quite exciting watching it unfold.

 

Meredith Woerner: Thank you very much, that?s exactly the update we
wanted. Thanks, I appreciate it.

 

Dave Howe: You?re welcome.

 

Coordinator: And our next question comes from Kelly West with
cinemablend.com. Your line is open.

 

Kelly West: Hello. Just thank you so much for taking the time
out to do this with us.

 

Dave Howe: You?re welcome Kelly.

 

Kelly West: My question – well I guess you mentioned earlier –
just going back to the whole SciFi, you know, rebranding, you mentioned that
the Syfy is the name that you guys came up with that you liked the best. And
I?ve seen some feedback from a lot of people that don?t quite understand why,
you know, what the point was in just changing the spelling.

 

So aside from, you know, trademarking and
that kind of thing can you talk just a little bit about the process that went
into choosing the name and would you be willing to mention maybe some other
ideas that you guys played around with?

 

Dave Howe: Well it?s interesting that you ask that because we
did think maybe we?ll do this at Comic-Con actually with a fun panel. We might
share the short list of names. I mean I think the conversation that we?re
having today and the, you know, the feeding frenzy in the chat rooms and online
etcetera would probably be considerably greater if we changed the name completely
if I?m honest.

 

But naming is incredibly difficult. And,
you know, if you think of, you know, if you look at brands that launch now on
the whole new brands have to have a name which is completely made up so it will
be a word that you?ve never seen before.

 

You know, you see this particularly, you
know, with drugs, you look at a name like, you know, Celebrex or Viagra or
Cialis, any of these drugs you have to invent a word that doesn?t exist and you
have to do that because clearly it?s incredibly critical for you to secure the
URL.

 

So any real word is going to be completely
ruled out from the trademark perspective not just in the US but probably anywhere in the world and from a URL perspective. So straight away you?re
confined by having to invent a word.

 

So that?s the first challenge and then once
you?ve invented a bunch of words, you know, what you have to look at is the
pros and cons of that word. So, you know, the word may communicate something
which you think is good but then it may communicate something which is kind of
less good or is misleading or takes you in a direction that you don?t want to
go in or ultimately takes you back to where you were.

 

And in lots of respects some of the short
listed names that we came up with actually didn?t really move us any further
forward than where we are now with Syfy.

 

And, you know, there?s something which –
there?s something about the letter form in particular that we believe and we?ve
had this confirmed in our testing makes the logo very accessible and relatable,
the symmetry of it, the letter forms of the two Ys together with the S and F
which are very rounded.

 

We actually see that yes there is a word;
yes you could argue it?s a misspelled SciFi but actually it?s a new word. It?s
a new word and actually it?s a logo in itself. Part of the exercise that we
went through is we wanted obviously to let go of the Saturn logo but actually
to do that we needed to have a letter form which in and of itself from a design
perspective was unique and brandable and trademark ownable.

 

Kelly West: Okay thank you. Just one other – I guess kind of a
follow-up question now. You know, you spoke earlier about broadening your
viewership and you guys have been doing that for quite a while now with your
programming. You feel that the Syfy logo is – and the brand itself will reach
out to people that might have certain preconceived notions about science
fiction and that sort of thing as it relates to your network?

 

Dave Howe: The new brand and logo you mean?

 

Kelly West: Right.

 

Dave Howe: I think the – it?s a word that no one?s seen before.
I think, you know, smart people who know sci-fi get it; people who don?t just
look at it and think actually it?s kind of interesting, it?s cool and
contemporary. You know, a lot of people in the testing kind of said well if I
was going to text sci-fi that?s how I?d spell it.

 

So it delivers quite a lot of things that,
you know, we like and we think will be, you know, quite powerful in the future.
Just actually to give you an example of a name that actually we did test and I
can tell you what this name is because this was a name that is not
trademarkable and there?s no way we would have got the URL or even been able to
trademark it I think in any territory and that?s a name – the other name that we
put into testing was Beyond.

 

So I think we tested three things: We
tested – initially and this has been going on for maybe a year we tested SFC,
which is the obvious contraction from SciFi Channel which has been knocking
around for probably 10 years. And that?s what a lot of other networks have
done, TNN, TNT, CNN; all of those are contractions – TLC – all of those are
contractions of longer names. We tested that.

 

We tested where we are now. We tested Syfy
and we tested Beyond. And what was interesting about Beyond is to the point I
was making earlier, it solved some of the problems; it doesn?t solve all of
them. So Beyond did create a sense of well it?s about the future, it?s about
something which is, you know, far and away beyond me and over my head. And
maybe not something that I could relate to that, you know, connected with my
life as it is now.

 

So you can, you know, just in that example
alone you can see some of the complexities and some of the challenges of any
naming exercise which is why, you know, having a made up name which Syfy is, is
more open and enables you to kind of give it the perceptions and the kind of
values that you want it to have as opposed to a real word that comes with its
own, you know, set of expectations based on the meaning of that word.

 

Kelly West: Okay thank you very much.

 

Dave Howe: Thank you.

 

Coordinator: And once again if you?d like to ask a question
please press star 1. I?m not showing any further questions sir.

 

Dave Howe: It?s like you?ve all gone quiet. So we?re probably
going to wrap it up in that case. If, I mean, I think this was a great dialogue
and, you know, I hope – I hope we?ve been able to answer some of your
questions.

 

If you have any others feel free to ask
(Sallie) or any of the press and publicity team or (Craig Engler) because, you
know, we really, you know, we?re really open to answering these questions. And,
you know, we?d love people to kind of tell us what they think and hopefully,
you know, that?ll be a great exercise for us as we go forward and to launching
it on July 7. So I appreciate the time that you?ve all taken today. Thank you.

 

Coordinator: Thank you, sir.

 

 

END


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