TV Programming II
Programming Sales Terms
New first-run syndicated programs are
typically sold to stations as one-year deals. Particularly
if programs are without a track record (and in 1995-96,
every one of eight new syndicated hour-long talk shows
was canceled within their first seasons), for stations to
commit to more than 52 weeks would be a risky proposition
for their ratings.
One exception to that rule is the new Roseanne Show,
which is sold as a two-year commitment, based on the
needed agreement to attract the former sitcom star. However,
if her ratings are poor, syndicator King World has the option
to cancel the show after the first year (while still
paying off Roseanne's full contract).
Successful shows with a track record typically can attract
longer-term agreements. The syndicator holds the upper
hand, as stations rarely wish to see a top-rated first-run
series go to their opposition. Wheel of Fortune,
Jeopardy! and The Oprah Winfrey Show are examples
of popular syndicated offerings to which stations have
committed through the years 2002.
Syndicators offer new shows, as a rule, to all stations
in a market by blind bid, in which stations make
a sealed offer to the syndicator, which will include a
cash proposal and can include additional terms, such as
guarantee of a time period and making a time commitment
to the show.
When contracts for syndicated shows expire, the existing
station usually has the right of first refusal or
an opportunity to match an offer made by an opposing
station. If the syndicator is unhappy with the station's
placement of a show, the company can openly engage in a
new blind bid or negotiate individually with specific
stations. Likewise, an opposing station can negotiate
better terms (higher price, better time period, etc.) to
spirit a show away (this happened in the Memphis market
in 1997 when WMC-TV spirited away Regis and Kathie Lee
In the '50s, '60s and early '70s, most off-
network series were sold to stations in rerun packages
for seven runs of each episodes. This standard deal
would include a negotiated price-per-episode in the
package. Producers would turn out between 30-39 episodes
per season. Some packages, including those of Leave
It to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet and Perry
Mason included well over 200 episodes. The all-time
leader was Gunsmoke, with 626 episodes over a
twenty-year network run.
However, as talent salaries and production costs soared
in the mid-1970s, producers were able to turn out fewer
episodes per season. Today, the standard is 22 episodes
of hour-long series and 22-24 episodes of half-hour series
per season. Producers typically need at least 100
episodes for an acceptable rerun packages, in order to
keep stations from recycling the same episodes too
quickly in a year.
One other difference between "then" and "now:" in the
pre-1975 era, reruns of off-network series characteristically
did not begin in syndication until the end of a series'
network run. Today, the standard for successful series
is to go into reruns after the fourth network season,
even if the series continues to make new network episodes,
in order for producers and studios to begin making
profits earlier from their series.
In the mid-1970s, because of fewer episodes, the standard
deal was for stations to receive 10 runs of each off-network
package they would purchase. Those ten runs would be
considered a program's rerun cycle. Stations
would run the episodes as they saw fit and while episode
20 of a series would be airing in one market, episode
147 of the same show may be airing in another market on
the same day.
Satellite delivery and The Cosby Show changed the
off-network syndication market forever. Rather than
selling a number of runs, Cosby reruns were sold
to stations in 1988 for four years. Further,
Cosby became the first off-network show to be
delivered to stations on the same day every day via
satellite. The episodes were fed to stations two days
prior to air date and all stations in the U.S. carrying
Cosby reruns would air the same show on the same
day. This is now the standard form of delivery for
syndicated off-network reruns in their first cycle.
The gamble for stations buying off-network reruns is, in
addition to expense, the shows---usually sold on a cash-plus-barter
basis in the first cycle---are often sold to stations
while a show is still high in the network ratings. However,
if those syndication packages are bought two years in
advance of the first airing, the program could have lost
its steam by the time the reruns are released. A classic
story is that of Laverne and Shirley, a series
nearly 200 U.S. stations bought for reruns at a time
when the series was still the number two program in the
Nielsen ratings on ABC. Two years later, Laverne and
Shirley had fallen to mediocre numbers on the network.
The rerun package failed miserably, as viewers were not
interested. The same failure occurred for stations which
purchased The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Grace
Under Fire, and Dallas, all of which bombed
as syndication packages.
If an off-network series nosedives in the ratings, a
station is not obligated to continue airing the show for
the life of the contract. However, the station must
continue airing all barter spots from the program in a
time period negotiated with the syndicator. This is an
expensive and time-consuming process and also costs the
station availabilities. The station must also pay for
the program package, whether it airs all of the episodes
during the life of the contract.
Stations, in both off-network and first-run syndicated
programs, may offer a package deal to a syndicator.
At times, a station may agree to carry a less-desirable
show in order to gain a preferred syndicated offering.
Some King World stations agree to carry Inside Edition
as part of a package with Wheel, Jeopardy!, and
Oprah. In some instances, syndicators demand a
package deal in order for a station to keep an existing
popular syndicated show at a specific price. However,
one of the classic deals came when Twentieth Television
sold the original rerun package of M*A*S*H in 1979.
In more than 100 of the markets in which M*A*S*H
was distributed, Twentieth required stations to take
reruns of Lost In Space, Land of the Giants, and
The Monroes---all of which few stations had any
interest in carrying, in order to purchase M*A*S*H
at a specific price.
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