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TV Programming I

Programming Sources


Local stations negotiate affiliation contracts

Contracts last 5-10 years: the entire landscape changed when Rupert Murdoch raided traditional CBS, ABC, NBC affiliates in 1993-94. Prior to that, networks negotiated new compensation deals every two years. Murdoch changed the landscape in three ways: 1) by buying controlling interest in 14 key affiliates in major cities which carried programs of other networks (Memphis' WHBQ is one example); 2) by investing a minority interest in at least a dozen other stations, in exchange for those station groups switching affiliations to Fox; and 3) offering more compensation to at least 15 other key stations across the U.S. than other networks would provide.

Networks pay compensation to affiliates to carry programs

Networks expect virtually all of their lineups to be cleared by the local station
  • Restrictions placed on pre-emption of network programs
  • Networks typically ban a secondary affiliation with another network
  • Networks do not compensate affiliates for carrying expensive sports packages, such as the Super Bowl, World Series, or NFL Monday Night Football. In fact, affiliates are now being asked to pay a pro-rated share of the costs of the pro football rights, which now top $8 billion.


Syndication companies are independent distributors of programming to local stations for non-network and non-local dayparts. Syndicators act as a type of middleman broker between program suppliers (producers) and local stations. Syndicators provide programming in three scheduling formats:

  • Strips - Programs which air five days a week in the same time slot, Monday through Friday.
  • Weekly or Twice-Weekly - Typically for the non-network weekend schedule
  • OTO - Acronym for a one-time-only special (programs such as Merv Griffin's New Year's Eve).

Syndicated programs are usually in two categories:

  • Off-Network - Programs which have had prior exposure on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, UPN, or The WB and are sold as rerun packages to local stations. Shows such as Cheers, Seinfeld, Home Improvement, or The Cosby Show are examples of off-network syndicated series, usually sold as strips after four or five years of network exposure.
  • First-Run - Programs which are having their original exposure in syndication. Such shows include The Oprah Winfrey Show, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy!, Hollywood Squares, etc. In prior years, game shows often had network versions in daytime hours and separate nighttime syndicated versions.

Syndicated programs are sold under the following licensing terms:

  • Straight cash - Program sold to a local station strictly for a cash payment. The primary programs sold today as cash-only deals are evergreens (off-network programs which typically have had either five years or more of syndicated exposure, such as M*A*S*H, Cheers, The Andy Griffith Show, or Perry Mason.
  • Cash-plus-barter - The primary method for selling first-run and recent off-network strips. In this deal, stations pay a negotiated cash license fee and give the syndicator a negotiated amount of commercial time to sell national advertising. In the case of Oprah, stations give the syndicator five minutes and retain nine minutes for their own local sales. Wheel of Fortune is sold on a 1 1/2-4 1/2 split of commercial sales between syndicator and local station.
  • Barter - No cash is exchanged between station and syndicator. The program is provided free of charge, in exchange for what is usually an even split of the commercial time (7/7 in an hour-long show). Programs typically sold in this fashion are weekend off-network programs, such as Walker, Texas Ranger or The X-Files, both of which are packaged as Saturday-Sunday offerings in reruns for local stations (both series are also sold to cable networks USA and fx as strips).

Leading syndicators and the programs they distribute include:

  • King World - The top first-run syndicator with rights to Oprah, Wheel, Jeopardy!, Inside Edition, and its newest offerings, Hollywood Squares and The Roseanne Show.

  • Studios USA (Universal) - Jerry Springer, Sally Jessy Raphael, Maury Povich.

  • Viacom - Montel Williams, Roseanne sitcom reruns, and the largest package of evergreens including The Cosby Show, Andy Griffith, I Love Lucy, Perry Mason, Rawhide, Gunsmoke, My Three Sons, Family Affair, Petticoat Junction, Sanford and Son, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show.

  • Warner Brothers - The Rosie O'Donnell Show, Jenny Jones, Love Connection, Change of Heart; evergreens such as Murphy Brown and recent off-network product, such as Friends.

  • Columbia TriStar Television - Donny and Marie, The Newlywed Game, The Dating Game, and Ricki Lake.

  • Twentieth Television (syndication subsidiary of Fox) - repeats of COPS, Married: with Children, The Simpsons and Living Single, among recent off-network product.

  • Buena Vista Television (syndication subsidiary of Disney/ABC) - Regis and Kathie Lee, Debt (currently being tested in 12 markets), reruns of Home Improvement, Grace Under Fire, and Boy Meets World.

  • Eyemark Entertainment (syndication subsidiary of CBS/Westinghouse) - Martha Stewart Living, repeats of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Touched By an Angel.

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