NBC's Fear Factor is on its way to being the first prime-time reality show to hit syndication. Last week, the network picked up from Endemol USA a fifth season of the gross-out reality show, taking it through 2004-05, and also grabbed options for sixth and seven seasons.
As part of the deal, NBC Enterprises acquired the rights to sell the show in syndication, and Fear Factor is likely to debut as a cable strip and a weekend broadcast hour in fall 2004. NBC already had locked in season four, starting this fall, with an order for 30 episodes.
Although there is no precedent for syndicating a network prime time reality show, all those involved predicted great things for the program's backend future, though declining to estimate the show's potential. Hit sitcoms, such as Friends, Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond, have easily taken in $1 billion and more once they've hit syndication; hour-long serial dramas aren't as lucrative because they don't repeat well. But because the storyline is completed in each episode of Fear Factor, its repeats tend to hold up in the ratings.
"Fear Factor will make multiple millions of dollars for all the parties involved," says Mark Itkin, executive vice president and worldwide head of syndication, cable and non-fiction programming at William Morris Agency, who helped broker the deal.
Says Endemol USA President David Goldberg, "The show is in second and third runs this summer and is consistently winning its time period, and the numbers continue to be strong. That bodes very well for how it will do in syndication."
This summer, Fear Factor is the 14th-highest-rated show summer-to-date among adults 18-49.
"As Fear Factor nears its 100th episode next season, its ratings are still growing, something no other reality show can claim at that stage of its life," said NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker. "This season, Fear Factor delivered the highest 18-49 rating for any network in the Monday 8-9 p.m. hour in six years. Fear dominates, with a 23% advantage over second place in the hour in that category. And even more than that, it's an 18-34 magnet."
Fear Factor is routinely cited as a reality show that is less appealing to advertisers because of the nature of some of the stunts. Goldberg admits that the "advertising arena is certainly smaller for Fear Factor, but there still are many, many advertisers that see it as a very important way to reach their targeted viewers. The show has a solid core of advertisers with big brand names who are happy to advertise in Fear Factor.
Like all reality shows, Fear Factor is flexible, and NBC has routinely expanded the show to meet its needs. In syndication, Goldberg says it's likely the lengthened 90-minute episodes will either be shortened to an hour or sold separately as two-hour specials.