Turning Toward 2012

With many post-'Oprah' plans settled, syndicators are plotting for opportunity even further down the road

The all-important Oprah question—which program will
replace what has arguably been TV’s highest-rated and most lucrative
talk show for the past 25 years?—has been quietly answered.
Instead of crowning a new Oprah, TV stations are turning toward several
less dramatic options, such as acquiring or upgrading Warner Bros.’ Ellen
and Sony’s Dr. Oz, or producing a local show or news expansion (see cover
story). With that question settled, syndicators’ thoughts are turning
toward 2012.

Not that 2011 should be scratched off the to-do list. This year’s rookies
have just opened, and none of the early season ratings results are bowling
anyone over. That means that next fall there will be open slots—besides
Oprah’s—and syndicators are readying projects for pitching.

Most syndication executives expect stations to watch their shows’ performances
through the November ratings
book and then start shopping. By the
time that January’s NATPE convention
in Miami rolls around, stations and
syndicators should be ready to do some

Still, most of 2011’s major time slots
have been taken, and 2012 is the next
time when important slots could open
up. One of those potential slots is currently
filled by CBS Television Distribution’s
Rachael Ray, whose contract ends
in 2012. Rachael Ray airs at 10 a.m. in
the highly rated post-Live With Regis and
slot on two of the country’s strongest
stations: ABC-owned WABC New
York and WPVI Philadelphia. Some
syndication executives wishfully think
that show, whose ratings aren’t as strong
in other markets, may end its run; others
say that the worst-case scenario is
that ABC decides not to renew it and it
moves to other stations. Still, if either
of those options occurs, a key time slot
may open up.

Rachael Ray is the most user-friendly piece of programming you can
have on your air,” says one syndication executive, noting that the show
about cooking and other female-friendly topics invites advertisers. Syndicators
are turning more to brand integration and strategic alliances as
they look for more ways to earn revenues, as ratings continue to decline
in the fragmented daytime marketplace.

Some station groups are turning away completely
from expensive syndicated programming,
which could create opportunities for innovators.
The Scripps Television Group recently decided
not to renew CTD’s Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!,
the two shows with the highest household ratings
averages in syndication, in favor of trying locally
produced programming in those access slots.

In addition, Raycom has joined Post-Newsweek
in declining to renew CTD’s Dr. Phil, and instead
is filling that slot with its own show,
America Now, developed and produced
with ITV Studios (see Station to Station). And Tribune, while firmly committed
to remaining in business with NBC
Universal and its trio of talkers—Maury,
Jerry Springer and Steve Wilkos
—is rolling
out The Bill Cunningham Show in fall 2011.
Other groups, such as Meredith and Gannett,
already have locally produced daytime
programs on the air.

“Stations are always looking to find
ways to economically take advantage of
the resources they have and to not have to
do multi-year deals for syndicated product,”
says Bill Carroll, VP of programming
at Katz Television Group Programming.
“Whether that’s ultimately a trend will
depend on how successful any of these
group efforts turn out to be.”

For a station group to successfully create,
produce and distribute its own show,
“you have to have the right mix of stations
and time periods, and the economics have
to be perfect,” says one station executive.
“When one of those shows works, everyone
jumps on the bandwagon.”

No one has jumped on such a locally
produced bandwagon since Oprah herself
started in Chicago in 1986, upstaging another local phenomenon, Phil Donahue,
whose own TV career was launched in Dayton, Ohio, in 1967.

The return to more locally produced programming means that another
Oprah or Phil could rise to prominence, but today’s syndication economics
are far more confining than they were when Oprah got her start. How
to work within those economic limits is the code that everyone is trying
to crack.

Says one syndication executive, “We need to develop new and different
shows, and there are opportunities out there to incubate them. We need to
try to fi gure out what those shows might be, and then produce and price
them at a level that understands today’s economics.”

Come 2012, syndicators also might find themselves with more time slots
to fill than they expected. “It’s an interesting question,” says another syndicator.
“Will the stations that converted to news be happy with that decision,
or will there be too much news on the air by then?”

comments to
and follow her
on Twitter: @PaigeA