Christian Marchant
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Brands and Cultural Phenomena

Digital Experience- The SyFy Network and Synthwave Music



The Ask

How can SyFy expand the digital experience for their online hub of science fiction fandom? Test the strategy and tactics.


The  Situation

The SyFy Channel has always brought quality science fiction programming to its viewers. That includes everything from spooky TV shows to classic space movies. Today, like most TV networks, SyFy has a difficult time competing with streaming services' original programming. Netflix hit shows like Stranger Things and Black Mirror, or Hulu series like The Handmaid's Tale, divert science fiction fans away from SyFy.

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The SyFy Rebrand

In 2017, SyFy rebranded to focus more heavily on science fiction fandom. This is a smart play because science fiction has such a cult following. It has allowed SyFy to tap into this audience and be the go to source to learn about the latest in science fiction and connect with other fans. 

 
[We] put fans at the center of everything we do... we’re building the ultimate universe for this passionate community to call home.
— Chris McCumber, President, Entertainment Networks for NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment
 

SyFy has also created SyFy Wire, which acts as a news source for the genre. It sources articles on everything from TV, film, books, comics, gaming and technology news. 

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One of SyFy's successful projects to honor their 25th anniversary was a podcast interviewing and celebrating some of the most famous people in the science fiction genre. The reason this was so impactful was that it helped the brand step beyond just being a TV network. It allowed people to experience the brand out of the TV box, while bringing new and interesting content. This content also honored the humble beginnings of this genre, giving SyFy credibility in the space. 

 
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Taking Cues From Fellow Fandom Networks

When thinking about how to expand their digital fan base, I looked to another network that cultivates a culture of fandom: Adult Swim. What stood out as one of Adult Swim's more successful tactics was making music a key component in everything they do. Music is a core part of the Adult Swim brand, and fans look to them for recommendations. Music is synonymous with popular culture, and utilizing it adds an additional cool factor to the brand. Music comes in the form of:

  • Music video collaborations with Adult Swim shows
  • Exclusive music releases from shows
  • Compilation mixes curated by Adult Swim
  • Weekly singles released on the website with free downloads and streams
 
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The Opportunity

While brainstorming and exploring how music could help SyFy's fandom network, I uncovered an interesting cultural phenomena that tied directly into everything SyFy is about.


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The Phenomena of Synthwave

  • Music utilizing, romanticizing, and exaggerating 80’s science fiction tropes and styles 

  • Resembles movie scores, video game soundtracks, and pop culture 80's music

  • The trend revolves around the idea of “Retrofuturism” (it looks at the future in the context of the 80's)

*We can also see on Google Trends' search results when the term Synthwave started gaining traction on the internet:

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Recurring Themes in the Genre

  • Horror
  • Sci-fi
  • Space
  • Video games 
  • Cars
  • Miami
  • Vampires
  • Zombies
  • 80's computers
  • Robots
  • Cities in the 80's
  • Fantasy

Beyond the Music

Online

Artists build their online presence around the themes in their music.

Art

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Album covers, tour fliers, digital design, and video styles all follows the themes of the genre.

Characters

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Artists will often develop characters based on personas rooted in specific themes.

Lyrical Content

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Concept albums and stories within the music are common.


 

Below is a collection of videos, albums covers, tour fliers, art, and blogs to help sum up the culture of Synthwave.

 

SyFy and Synthwave


The Connection

When you get right down to it, Synthwave is about fans making sounds to honor and celebrate classic science fiction and horror. This fits in perfectly with the new brand purpose of SyFy. The goal of SyFy is to become a part of the Synthwave conversation and cultural movement. SyFy can bring this phenomena to fans in an interesting way that will enhance their experience with the brand in the digital space.

No brand has been able to take part in the discussion of this very niche, yet relatable culture. SyFy has the opportunity to lead the way. 

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Introducing SyFy Revival Noise-

The newest division of SyFy focused on music fandom. Connecting fans to artists honoring the past and present sounds of science fiction. 


Revival Noise Radio

To help people further connect to the science fiction stories and culture they are exploring on SyFy Wire, the website could randomly stream Synthwave songs based on what content you are viewing. Reading up on the latest space epic? Then check out Silenx's album Space Love. Learning about the latest horror flick? Hear Mitch Murder's album Burning Chrome. 


The Breadth of Revival Noise

Purpose: 
Introduce fans of science fiction to independent and underground musicians who contribute to science fiction culture. Build another experience for the SyFy brand outside of TV.

  • Synthwave compilation albums
  • Interviews with artists
  • Partnerships with artists to create the soundtracks for current shows
  • Genre specific listening to hear Synthwave based on your interests 

For more dedicated fans, they can dive much deeper into the world of Synthwave on the Revival Noise Website. 

 

What this might look like...

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Synthwave Compilation Albums
SyFy Presents: Revival Vol. 1

Artist Interviews
Exclusive "Dance With the Dead" Interview

  Meet the artists behind the madness "Dance With the Dead"

 Meet the artists behind the madness "Dance With the Dead"

 

Hear S U R V I V E 's Soundtrack for SyFy's Original Series: The Expanse

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The Genres of Synthwave
Reminisce on Your Favorite Genres

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Testing the Hypothesis

To determine whether this would be a valuable addition to the SyFy brand, I took the idea to 10 self-identified science fiction and SyFy fans. I conducted qualitative interviews to gage interest and test the concept. The results were overwhelmingly positive, indicating that this would be a very smart plan for SyFy to implement. I tested the following questions:

Does Synthwave actually remind people of science fiction?
All interviewees said it reminded them of some genre of science fiction or horror. 

Would they be interested in Revival Noise if SyFy were to actually implement this idea?
9/10 interviewees said they would be interested
2/10 interviewees were aware of Synthwave and already listen to it regularly. 

 

Qualitative Interview Responses

When flipping through a Synthwave playlist I asked: "What comes to mind when you hear this?"

“It reminds me of being in a space ship and punching an alien”
-Afia
 
“I actually listen to a lot of  TV show and movie soundtracks, especially sci-fi stuff, and some Synthwave. Love the sound tracks from stuff like the matrix and final fantasy games”
-Kyle

“It has a lot of those 80’s classic sci-fi tropes”
-Carole

“I definitely get some sci-fi vibes.”
–Maggie

 

"Would you be interested in this idea as a part of the SyFy experience?"

“Yes I would. I think they could create, like, the world of Synthwave as a separate entity within the SyFy universe.”
-Afia
“Hmmm, it would be cool to make SyFy into what MTV used to be, for this type of music, if it existed as another section on their site.”
-Eddy
“It would be interesting, I could see listening to playlists… I would love to learn more about the composers of actual sci-fi films too, but then also have it scaled down to, like, smaller Star Trek cover bands.”
-Dylan
“I usually like the music in sci-fi shows, but never think to look it up after. I feel like it would bring another dimension to SyFy”
-Maggie