The Sci-Fi Channel, which is prone to dealing in the world of tomorrow, is staking a claim in new-media technologies available today and is incorporating them into everything from programming to on-air promotions to ad sales presentations.
Sci-Fi, started in 1992 by USA Networks, began delivering that message to advertisers and agencies over the past few weeks in the form of a new multimedia CD-ROM presentation that takes Sci-Fi's sales pitch from the age of flip charts to the era of cyberspace.
"This stuff is our reason for being. It's what we're all about," said Tom Olson, VP-sales of Sci-Fi. "We might as well have been a magazine as far as the way we presented ourselves in the past."
Besides being symbolic of Sci-Fi's programming culture, the multimedia application is a practical way for Sci-Fi to deliver its message to media buyers, many of whom have yet to see the network's programming.
"Currently, our subscribers are at 16 million, so obviously a lot of our advertisers have not seen our programming," said John Doherty, national sales manager of Sci-Fi. "They've seen some of the classic series we carry, like `Quantum Leap,' but they're probably not familiar with our original movies or series."
Since Sci-Fi's multimedia presentation includes sound and full motion video, Mr. Doherty said presentations can be customized to include whatever aspect of Sci-Fi's programming suits a particular prospect.
"I'm able to relate the presentation to a specific client, as opposed to a normal presentation where I'd stick a tape in a cassette player and sit there and watch it," said Mr. Doherty, using a computer mouse to scroll through multimedia windows during a recent demonstration at Sci-Fi's New York headquarters. "This presentation shows that we are investing heavily in original programming."
Mr. Doherty scrolls to a window that reads "Inside Space," then clicks the mouse and shows a segment from Sci-Fi's "Inside Space" series, as well as segments from original movies dubbed "Planetary Previews."
With another stroke of his mouse, Mr. Doherty switches to a menu of Sci-Fi audience profile data that reveals the young network is currently ranked No. 8 in coverage area prime-time ratings and fifth among adults 18 to 49.
"A lot of people think of the typical Sci-Fi viewer as some guy with a black light poster and a bong who orders pizza three times a day and never leaves his room," said Mr. Doherty. "We are happily doing well with males, who are hard to reach, but we reach a lot of women, too."
The presentation also enables Sci-Fi to customize examples of marketing promotions that the channel can provide sponsors.
There are traditional elements such as billboards and interstitial programming tie-ins. But there are also Sci-Fi specialties such as "time capsules," a programming vignette in which a futuristic character is seen opening a 1994-dated time capsule and pulling out contemporary brands such as Pringles potato chips or a Chevrolet Camaro.
Despite its name, Sci-Fi wants more than high-tech advertisers. Its target categories include products that appeal to middle-to-upper-income adults, especially men.
The marketing options also extend Sci-Fi into other forms of interactive media, including online services.
Sci-Fi currently has hubs on Prodigy and America Online and is discussing ways of integrating its cable sponsors into America Online, though nothing specific has developed yet. (See related story on Page 19.)
Sci-Fi also is exploring how it might use America Online to market a line of Sci-Fi merchandise directly to online users. About a year ago, Sci-Fi hooked up with science fiction product retailer Starlog to establish Sci-Fi kiosks in malls and retail stores in major markets. The kiosks promote Sci-Fi branded products.
Sci-Fi is also developing a 1-hour home-shopping show hawking both Sci-Fi branded products and other marketers', especially new-technology products that might be well-suited to Sci-Fi's audience.
Sci-Fi's Mr. Olson said computer software or electronic products such as Apple's Newton personal communications system would be ideal, because they could be demonstrated on the show.
In other interactive areas, Sci-Fi is working on projects with all of the major video-on-demand tests, including Bell Atlantic's Stargazer.
Sci-Fi will also bring the world of digital media on screen soon via a "live-action animated" character called Vactor, which uses digital production methods to synchronize an animated character with the voice and body movements of a live actor. Sci-Fi executives said Vactor will most likely be a character that can morph into different shapes and forms and that it will used as a value-added marketing opportunity for Sci-Fi advertisers.
"You might see the character morph into a Pepsi can," said Ellen Kay, VP-advertising and promotion for USA Networks.