Tampa Web site helps provide the Sci Fi Channel with its new name, Syfy
WhenMichael Hinman first got the idea to name his Tampa-based Web site after a funny-looking synonym for science fiction, his goal was to find a trademark term that would instantly spell out what he and his geeky pals were obsessing over.
Hinman had no idea his brainchild might end up on a worldwide cable TV channel and online network.
But following news Monday that NBC Universal’s Sci Fi Channel plans to rename itself Syfy – about a month after Hinman sold rights for the name of his SyFy Portal Web site to an obscure New York firm for a six-figure sum – the 30-something journalist has seen his idea gain a new level of pop culture visibility.
“We suspected it was a network or studio (buying the name), because of the amount of money they paid,” said Hinman, 32, who declined to reveal the exact amount. “It’s not the kind of money you’d pay to start another science fiction Web site.”
Hinman (left), who still works as a reporter for the Tampa Bay Business Journal, started his site in 1998 as Syfyman’s World, focusing on fan discussion of science fiction TV shows and films such as Earth: Final Conflict and Star Trek: Insurrection. Eventually, the space gained a reputation for leaking advance information about sci-fi TV shows, evolving through the names SyFy World and, most recently, SyFy Portal.
“I wasn’t that familiar with the Internet, but a good friend of mine started a Tampa Bay Buccaneers Web site, and I thought, ‘I can do that,’ " added Hinman, who now operates the site with a small staff and says he made enough selling the name to quit his journalism job if he chose. “I figure, you always write what you know. So I wrote about science fiction.”
A Sci Fi Channel spokeswoman said in an e-mail that executives developed the name themselves, then bought up the rights to similar online phrases: "Once the decision was made to change the name, we pursued various strategic paths including acquiring certain domain names."
The company announced this morning it would change its name on July 7, creating a brand which is ownable -- Sci Fi was too generic to trademark -- and can be placed on other projects such as Syfy Films or Syfy Kids.
The channel’s executives were expected to tout this change during “upfront” meetings with advertisers today in New York, where programmers try to sell advertising spots for the next TV season in advance.
But the plans have already drawn barbs from industry reporter and blogger Nikki Finke, who said “it makes no sense in this climate of economic crisis and budget cuts and staff layoffs that NBC Universal would waste money like this.” And the New York Times noted today that the phrase comes pretty close to the names of technology company SyFi Global and Syfo seltzer.
“The biggest issue for us was that people misspelled it all the time,” said Hinman of the SyFy name; his Web site renamed itself Airlock Alpha last month, in an effort to redirect fans before their old name surfaced on a new product. “We had contingency plans for every (use of the new name) except that they would rename an entire network. That surprised us."
But even though the Sci Fi Channel has taken over his old name, Hinman still hopes the brand change succeeds.
“People really, really seem to hate it, but I wish they would give it a shot,” said Hinman, who is developing a network of sites, including one for horror fans (Rabid Doll) and TV shows (Inside Blip). “It’s a risky move for (Sci Fi), but I created the name. I don’t want to see it turn into a New Coke kind of thing.”