Who knew when Twentieth Television sold The Simpsons
into syndication that the show would still be a powerhouse 12 years later?
Although a winner for Fox in prime time, syndication, and DVD sales, The Simpsons
could have been even more profitable had News Corp. executives been able to predict the future. In 2004, it remains one of the highest-rated sitcoms in syndication and a top performer among kids, teens, and young adults—whenever it airs.
"As good as it was and is, people saw it as Alf
or The Muppets, or The Flintstones," says Paul Franklin, Twentieth's executive vice president and general sales manager. "There was nothing to suggest it was going to be this great for this long a period." The Simpsons
is in its 15th season with Fox and contracted for another year. The 2004 season will make the Sunday-night staple the longest-running sitcom ever, surpassing The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
And competitors can eat their shorts. In syndication, The Simpsons
generates $2.5 million to $3 million per episode, according to industry estimates. That counts the national ad time included in the show for its first seven years in syndication, which started in 1994. With 341 episodes in the can, that amounts to some $1 billion in revenue.
Even though the show turns in top ratings for stations, it no longer appears on national charts. No national barter time is built into the deals, so stations buy it outright and sell local time. National advertisers don't need ratings, so its off-net performance appears less than stellar.
"People tend to forget it's out there," says one industry analyst. "If barter was there, The Simpsons
would be up there with Friends, Seinfeld, and Raymond."
Because the show is still a strong prime time performer, Fox keeps renewing it. Thus, contractually, Twentieth can't take it back to the open-station market or sell a cable run. On the flip side, the distributor will probably take its time cashing in on The Simpsons. Its performance holds up, especially among young men. In the metered markets, it's the top show among men 18-49, with a 7.9 rating versus Friends' 4.5. In adults 18-49, it scores a 6.7, while Friends
hits a 5.4.
And—unlike the cast of Friends—Bart and Lisa Simpson haven't aged a day.