Syfy’s upfront event for advertisers, held yesterday at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, celebrated a cohort its research team is calling Igniters — “those highly imaginative people who shape the world in which we live and move brands forward faster,” and the key audience that has made the brand a top media destination for imagination-based entertainment.
The brand's on-air/online pitch to media buyers and brand marketers on the Syfy Igniters microsite: "Syfy sparks the imagination, inspiring curiosity and creativity among an influential audience who believes the world is full of possibility. By opening doors to new ideas, and opening eyes to thrilling new perspectives, we make the unbelievable...believable."
The NBC Universal-owned Syfy, which launched in 1992 as the Sci Fi channel (and shortened to Sci-Fi from 1999-2009), has held steady as a top 10 cable entertainment network among adults 25-54 for 16 consecutive years, and its bumper crop in original programming, digital and gaming media portend many more years to come.
"Our starting point and end point is our audience: how they think, how they behave, how they use social media," Syfy president Dave Howe told brandchannel before the upfront. "At the heart of our brand is imagination and creativity, and that really brings to life a category of consumer that is highly imaginative, creative, a risk-taker, and at the forefront of technology and embracing change."
That's why Syfy is expanding the notion of "television" with the 2013 premiere of Defiance, a transmedia first that links TV and Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) gaming. Set in San Francisco 30 years in the future, with aliens and humans struggling to survive and co-exist after epic warfare, it’s a disintermediation of the usual linear release timeline.
The series, a joint venture with video game developer Trion Worlds, will reveal plot points on TV in tandem with the game. "If a massive storm moves in on the show, it moves in on the game," stated Howe.
With the game and the show as co-influencers, marketer participation is required earlier than usual. "We are in conversations with potential advertisers nine months in advance," commented Linda Yaccarino, president-cable entertainment and digital advertising sales at NBC Universal, to Ad Age. "We have never thrown back the curtain this early in a project."
It’s a potential brand bonanza. "The game could have a highway with rest-stop signs, and one of the signs could have a Burger King symbol," said Nicholas Beliaeff, SVP development for Trion Worlds. "When they get off the highway, they find a Burger King that survived the universal war."
"Syfy is pushing past linear TV and showing there's a bigger environment for advertisers outside the one screen," Ellen Ferrari, managing director at Mindshare told Ad Age. "This will push other networks to build programming for more than one screen. A video game might not be the answer for everyone, but it will open networks' eyes that there are other ways to incorporate and engage the consumer with that's happening on TV."
Syfy Digital, underscoring the brand's position as a magnet for an early adapter/tech savvy audience, announced:
• BlastrTV — Hosted by Andrea Feczko, a unique take on defining trends in the current sci-fi, fantasy and horror genres, distributed on VOD, Syfy.com and Hulu, and across Syfy’s mobile, tablet, Xbox Live and Roku apps.
• Blastr App for Windows Phone — utilizing features of Windows Phone, such as live tiles and access to Blastr’s video content, including Blastr TV, news stories and photo galleries.
• Syfy Sync for Face Off — multimedia synced to the show with hi-res photos of each transformation and bonus video scenes.
• Roku – Syfy is launching a marketing and promotional app, a mix of online originals, webisodes and newly-announced Digital Studio content, available in HD.
“Our partnership with Roku will make Syfy’s digital content instantly available to the nearly 2.5 million people who own Roku devices, a huge number that’s growing every day,” said Craig Engler, SVP/General Manager, Syfy Digital.
Syfy Ventures announced G.I. Joe: Special Ops in partnership with Hasbro, the first online social game based on the iconic franchise, debuting in June on Facebook and SyfyGames.com. The arena-based combat game lets players join the G.I Joe team or the villainous COBRA organization.
In addition to G.I. Joe: Special Ops, Syfy Ventures also announced:
• Syfy Monster Island (Sneaky Games) Inspired by Original Movies (Sharktopus, Mega Python Vs Gatoroid), players hunt down and capture monsters to discover the secrets of their origins.
• Stardrift Empires (Blue Frog Gaming) Players colonize planets, build massive fleets of warships and form alliances while building intergalactic empires.
• Rise of Villains (Eruptive Games) Fans suit up as super villains to overthrow governments and take over cities in the ultimate fight for world domination.
And, lest we forget, there's that bumper crop of original TV programming.
The network's programming executives brought to the upfront its largest programming commitment in its 20-year history, including 28 scripted and reality development projects such as:
• School Spirits - The Mark Burnett-produced series features true ghost stories of hauntings at schools across the country told in first person narrative.
• Paranormal Highway – Jack Osbourne and Dana Workman investigate claims of paranormal activity along America’s remote back roads with eyewitness testimony.
• Collection Intervention – Elyse Luray helps couples at odds with their home's overwhelming collections of memorabilia.
On its scripted development slate, fans and brands can look forward to adaptations of popular works by best-selling novelists Stephen King (Eyes of the Dragon), John Christopher (The Lotus Caves) and Charlaine Harris (Grave Sight), as well as the hit movie The Adjustment Bureau and DC Entertainment Comics' Booster Gold.
Syfy has three original long-form programming projects in development: King's Eyes of the Dragon from Universal Cable and Ostar Productions; Darkfall, The Jim Henson Company and Universal Cable Productions; and One Mile Straight Down from Universal Cable Productions.
“This new crop of innovative, thought-provoking, emotionally-charged programming will propel us even farther as we imagine all the greater possibilities ahead for the powerful Syfy brand,” said Mark Stern, President Original Content, Syfy, and Co-Head Original Content, Universal Cable Productions.
On the more immediate front, the channel debuts a new series tonight: Total Blackout, an extreme challenge series that pits players against each other ... in the dark. Take a sneak peek below: