Syfy Edges Further From Science Fiction Roots

Hopes More Reality Shows Will Bring Broader Audiences -- and Even More Ad Dollars

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- A year after the Sci-Fi Channel replaced its name with the more vague and therefore less limiting "Syfy," the network is also broadening its pitch to advertisers.

'Mary Knows Best' follows 'psychic intuitive' Mary Occhino in a humorous docu-soap format.
'Mary Knows Best' follows 'psychic intuitive' Mary Occhino in a humorous docu-soap format.
During its upfront presentation at the Museum of Modern Art in New York tonight, the NBC Universal cable channel will tout a slate of programs less bound to the niche of years past, announcing its first night of reality programming and other forays into science non-fiction content, as well as its growing slate of scripted sci-fi dramas and fantasies like "Warehouse 13," "Eureka" and "Battlestar Galactica" spinoff "Caprica."

"We don't want to be in the niche space; we want to be in general entertainment," Syfy President Dave Howe told Ad Age. Science fiction, fantasy and comic-book movies are, of course, already fairly general entertainment. They account for seven of the top 10 highest-grossing movies every year, Mr. Howe said. But Syfy now wants to offer more as well.

So Syfy will carry a trio of new reality shows, premiering July 15 and airing on Thursdays, that will place Syfy more in the vein of broad-based cable nets such as A&E and Discovery.

"Mary Knows Best," for example, will chronicle radio host, mother of three and "psychic intuitive" Mary Occhino in a humorous docu-soap format, particularly as her children -- a skeptic, a paranormal investigator and a reluctant psychic -- couldn't have inherited her abilities more differently.

"Paranormal Investigators" will follow in the vein of Syfy's "Ghost Hunters" by profiling outstanding cases of supernatural activity, while "Beast Legends" will put a documentary spin on some of the most notorious creatures and myths.

Syfy is also entering the reality competition genre with "Ghost Hunters Academy," pitting aspiring spirit chasers against each other in weekly elimination challenges -- a "Project Runway" for the haunted-house set.

Just as Syfy has broadened its programming aperture, its client base diversified as well. 2009 saw record ad revenues for the network, with the network logging $321.7 million in measured ad spending, a 6.6% increase from 2008, according to Kantar Media. Much of the growth was driven by categories like financial, insurance and foreign automotives spending more than ever on the network, as well as brands such as Apple, American Express, Ebay, Office Depot, Pepsico and Shell Oil buying airtime for the first time.

Mark Miller, Syfy's exec VP-ad sales, points to shows such as "Warehouse 13" and "Eureka," which became two of Syfy's three highest-rated original series ever (in addition to "Battlestar Galactica"), for playing a big role in changing marketplace perceptions about the network.

"We're getting a more upscale audience than we have in the past, and also more women, which I don't think Syfy has traditionally been in that consideration set before," Mr. Miller said, pointing out that females made up 48% of Syfy's prime-time viewers last year. "And where people thought of us as a more adult-focused network, we're getting younger viewers tuning in too."

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