Recently, Roger Ebert resurrected this article by Ursula K. Le Guin on how SyFy (then Sci-Fi) made a mockery of everything important to Earthsea with its woefully terrible miniseries. It got me thinking about the channel generally and how much it has changed over the years. I started watching it fairly regularly around the mid-90s and gave up about ten years ago, so it was an important part of my youth. Enough has been said about how terrible the channel’s re-branding as “SyFy” is and I won’t comment on that here. I’m more interested in examining how a niche channel succumbs to channel drift and what its operators could do to accommodate the desires that lead to channel drift while still pandering to the base.
Drift is what happens when a channel that caters to a specific base realizes one way to make more money is to move outside of that base toward programming that captures a larger or better targeted audience. MTV is a perfect example of this. Its long odyssey from a channel that played music videos exclusively to a channel that plays reality television exclusively is basically the definition of channel drift. However, SyFy deciding to play WWE Smackdown is also a pretty good example. Unfortunately, from what I’ve been able to find by looking around on the internet, there doesn’t seem to be an example of a channel successfully reversing drift and reverting back to content that caters to its base. What seems to happen more often is that a channel jettisons its old base entirely in favor of the new, more marketable content it has been phasing in. So if SyFy keeps adding more wrestling programs and Law and Order series reruns to its line-up, it could conceivably just purge all of its sci-fi content and become what would essentially be TNT 2. Continue reading