As the old saying goes, you gotta fish where the fish are. Even if that means hitting several smaller spots instead of relying on your big favorite fishing hole.
Audiences' media habits have been changing for years, with time formerly spent watching soaps at 1 p.m. and Oprah at 4 p.m. now divided among cable, the Internet, video games and other media. With TV ratings dropping each year, it's been difficult for stations and distributors to make syndication's standard financial models work.
This year, syndicators are putting theory into practice and selling their shows much like viewers watch them. A few of this year's first-run syndicated shows have been designed to run across multiple platforms, with each platform contributing a revenue stream.
Other shows have done this in limited ways, but Twentieth Television provides perhaps the best example: Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? airs on MyNetworkTV in primetime, in broadcast syndication and on cable net CMT. The show's ratings on any one of the platforms would not be high enough to keep it in production, but combining the three streams makes the show profitable.
That's why MyTV next fall will replace NBC Universal's Deal or No Deal with Don't Forget the Lyrics! The show is hosted by Mark McGrath, former host of Extra and former lead singer of Sugar Ray. Lyrics! is another off-Fox-prime game show that will also air in broadcast syndication and on a cable network, in this case VH1.
“The concurrent broadcast and cable runs of 5th Grader ushered in a groundbreaking syndication model for the business that we are thrilled to duplicate with a second hit Fox game show, Don't Forget the Lyrics!” said Greg Meidel, president of Twentieth and MyTV, in a statement during this year's NATPE convention in Las Vegas.
Trifecta Entertainment is trying something new with independently produced Hacienda Heights, a soap opera that features an all-Hispanic cast and will be shot in both English and Spanish. With the dual language tracks, the show is being pitched to both English- and Spanish-language television stations as well as cable networks and international buyers. Hacienda Heights is also taking a page from Tyler Perry's model, securing financial backing from Sahara Media for the next 89 episodes. The first 11, which have been given a test run on four TV stations, were financed by executive producer Desmond Gumbs.
Two other new first-run shows, CBS Television Distribution's Swift Justice With Nancy Grace and Debmar-Mercury's Jeremy Kyle, aren't aggressively going after multi-platform runs, but today's tough environment requires everyone to think differently. Nancy Grace is the first original show from a major syndicator to be sold for barter only. And like all Debmar-Mercury efforts, Jeremy Kyle will first air in a six-week test this summer to determine whether audiences warm to him.