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TV Programming II

Programming Sales Terms

First-Run Product

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 from WREG).


Off-Network Product

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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