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SciFriday: Do You Really Believe NBCU Created ‘Syfy’?

Not if you have come to this site at all for more than six months


Dear Michael Engleman:

Congratulations on your move to NBC Universal after what I’m sure was some hard work you did at CMT.

There, you took a network called “Country Music Television” and rebranded it “CMT.” If it sounds like something you just doodled on a piece of paper after five minutes thinking about it, then we haven’t heard about your most famous creation.

Let’s hear what you told Fortune magazine writer Nadira A. Hira in a story that published July 7.

“I knew how important our roots are, and knew where we wanted to go in the future, and I asked myself a simple question,” Engleman said. “What if we could change the name without ever changing the name? Five minutes later, with a ballpoint pen and a piece of scrap paper, Syfy was born.”

Except it really wasn’t born, was it? Not unless it’s a born again brand. And maybe it is. Maybe the Syfy brand went up to some marketing altar somewhere and declared itself reborn. Because now it would be the name of a network, and not just some science-fiction entertainment Web site that people like me and our great staff of writers spent years busting our tails over.

But who cares that I had actually created the “Syfy” name more than 10 years before Engleman created it. I mean, who the hell am I?

Last year, NBCU made $16.9 billion. Our little SyFy Portal operation? About $40,000 and some change. Let’s spell that out … $16,900,000,000 versus $40,000.

NBCU and the people at SciFi Channel/Syfy claim they adore the fans, and listen to the fans. Yet, they don’t even hesitate to stomp all over a site founded by fans, and operated by fans, who pretty much work next to nothing to get the news out to other fans.

To make matters worse, NBCU didn’t even have the balls to approach us themselves. They used a shell company called New Fizz Corp. to buy the SyFy Portal domain name, as well as all of our branding that uses “SyFy” or even “Sy” (or even SFY). That allowed them to buy the brand for $250,000.

That’s right. That is what they paid us to sell our domain name and our brand. A quarter million dollars. How much of a budget hit was that to NBCU? Let’s spell it out again: $16,900,000,000 versus $250,000. That is 0.0014 percent of NBCU’s overall revenue for a brand that they are now using on a major property.

If they had come to us as NBCU, they know that we would’ve looked at the $16,900,000,000 in revenue, and likely would’ve wanted to move the decimal point in the percentage of revenue to the right a few places. Even then, even if we had asked for $2.5 million for the brand and the domain name that we put so much of ourselves into, that would be just 0.014 percent of NBCU’s overall revenue for the year.

Seems like a good deal, right? If you’re NBC. They took a name that I had developed in 1998 and had effectively branded over a number of different projects like SyFy Radio, The SyUniverse Group, SyPod, the SyFy Genre Awards even SyFriday, and convinced us they were a company that made no more than a couple hundred thousand dollars, that prevented us from receiving the full value that such a name could command for the use they had planned.

But yeah, NBCU loves the fans, don’t they?

Syfy was a great name for them. We had shown NBCU over and over again how it could be used to brand and separate yourself from everyone else. We stopped using “SyFy Portal” more than five months ago, yet you plug that into Google, and you still get 24,000 results.

So you’re telling me that you, Mr. Engleman, who is described as a branding genius, didn’t know that while you were trying to find a way to rebrand SciFi Channel, that you didn’t look to see how other sci-fi related brands were working?

And even if you believe this hogwash that you somehow came up with the name independently, why is it so hard for your bosses at NBCU to simply acknowledge that while they may have come up with “Syfy” independently, it was used by its original creator — me — over the last decade.

I have used this example a lot in the past few months, and it still works. If Bill Gates decided that he wanted to buy the Ford Motor Co., he can’t turn around and claimed he invented the assembly line and the Model T. Just because you’re the owner of something doesn’t mean you created it.

Variety credited you for “coining” the term “Syfy.” You didn’t coin it anymore than I could put an engine on a set of four wheels and claim I invented the automobile. Sure, I may have created it independently of any car manufacturer, but that still doesn’t mean I can take the credit for its invention.

Does it?

Several years back, when we were trying to come up with a name for our new horror site, I had come up with the name “Screamscape.” I loved it, and was dancing all over the place that we had such an awesome name!

I mean, I had sat at my desk, thought about it for 10 minutes, and wrote it down.

Then I Googled “Screamscape” and found out that it was already in use by a rollercoaster enthusiast site. Does that mean I created the name? Or do I have to buy out Screamscape before I can claim that I “coined” the term?

Maybe we should use this newfound “wealth” NBCU provided us and buy the “SciFi Channel” branding, and then we can claim that we coined the term. As long as we own it, right?

I know you might see this as an unfair attack, Mr. Engleman, and I don’t mean for this to be personal in any way. I don’t really know you, I’ve never met you, and you’re probably a great guy. I know you work hard, and maybe you really believe that you created the name.

But it has been proven over and over again that you didn’t create the name. Not in the least. You may or may not have been aware of SyFy Portal when you came up with it, as I’m sure you know how to use Google like the rest of us. But the fact is, when it’s all said and done, the name you either “created” or “coined,” based on whatever legend you have mustered up, was in use for a long time.

It was in use by fans who have worked hard to not just watch your network, but to support it through stories and coverage. By a site that was on the forefront of pushing SciFi Channel to turn “Battlestar Galactica” into a series (a claim that I don’t make, but others involved in the early fandom movement following the success of the miniseries in 2003). By a site that wrote what it could about shows we didn’t even care for. By a site that even defended the inclusion of wrestling, because we felt any additional money made there could go toward stronger television shows and movies.

And we are big fans of what SciFi Channel and now Syfy does. We like “Warehouse 13.” We like “Caprica.” We can’t wait for “Stargate: Universe.” We like Syfy president Dave Howe, who I had a chance to talk on the phone with quite extensively and enjoyed his professionalism and intelligence. We like Craig Engler, who is using the “Syfy” name quite effectively on Twitter. And to be honest, we even like you for taking the chance with such a different name, and weathering the short-lived, if not heavy, typhoon of criticism that hit you.

But what we don’t like is when you try to drown out the fans. When you try to stomp us out. When you take from us for next to nothing, and then do what you can to make sure we can’t even get our voices heard above the media machine you have created. How are fans supposed to take that?

So enjoy the new name. You turned a brand that was used for a $40,000 operation to one that is now on a $425 million operation. That’s a value boost of what, 1,062,400 percent (I’m not kidding on that). And all you paid was $250,000.

That’s an instant value return of $1,700 for every single dollar spent. From the corporate perspective, that’s considered an amazing investment (hell, a return of $100 for every dollar invested is considered extraordinary to many).

But to those of us who are struggling to do the things we do … it’s yet another example of how mega-corporations do whatever it takes to make money, even at the expense of the little guy.

Sincerely,

Michael Hinman
The real creator of the term “Syfy”

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