This year proved once again that syndication is increasingly about the long game, with new shows premiering to low ratings and ideally growing stronger. Shows must be produced with similarly low budgets if they are going to be economically sustainable for television stations.
There hasn’t been a show since Dr. Phil premiered in 2002 at a 4.4 household rating that was an out-of-the-gate hit. This year was no different, with no new show debuting at higher than a 1.2 in households. Distributors and stations should now expect relatively low ratings at premiere, produce shows with those budgets in mind and work hard to make the shows grow, say syndicators.
“We all need more patience, but we also need to understand the new economics of production for what one can reasonably expect to generate in revenue,” says Ira Bernstein, copresident of Debmar-Mercury.
“It’s always worrying when shows don’t meet initial, optimistic expectations, but I think everyone has come to realize in the current environment, particularly in daytime, that it’s pretty difficult to break through, so it is to everyone’s advantage, if at all possible, to give shows a reasonable opportunity to succeed,” says Bill Carroll, VP, programming, Katz Television Group.
As a recent example, Disney-ABC’s Katie would have been renewed at its ratings levels, but it was too expensive to keep on the air. Meanwhile, a show like CBS Television’s Hot Bench, which has now been renewed for a second season and is being upgraded to CBS owned stations in several top markets this spring, is relatively cheap to produce, making its renewal an easy decision.
That need for patience and efficiency is one of the main reasons this year’s rookies seem to be on the path to renewal. Both Hot Bench and NBCUniversal’s Meredith Vieira, which is not necessarily inexpensive to produce, are officially renewed for season two. Warner Bros.’ The Real is sold for two-year deals on the Fox-owned stations and expected to return, and Debmar-Mercury’s Celebrity Name Game also is likely to get a second year.
The Content Pipeline Is Thin
While there seem to be new TV shows everywhere you look, the truth is that the offnetwork pipelines are thin for TV stations and cable networks.
That’s particularly true regarding off-net sitcoms, which are in a drought that wasn’t eased by this fall’s new comedies, most of which were short-lived.
“We’re sitting in a moment where we’re waiting for our next comedy hit,” says one executive. “The truth of the matter is, no matter how much linear programming those networks put on, the meat and potatoes of their schedules come from off-net.”
That’s not great news for TV stations that depend on sitcoms in access, and cable networks still building their schedules around off-net dramas and comedies.
In 2014, the most dramatic distribution deals were made with subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) players, such as Warner Bros.’ worldwide sale of Gotham to Netflix.
Only a few years ago, the fastest-selling properties were procedurals, which were the bread and butter of both broadcast and cable networks. Procedurals still sell well, but there are fewer of them, while producers focus on complex serial dramas they can sell at top prices to SVOD providers.
“Serialized shows seemed to leap in front of procedurals and this is happening all over the world,” says Mort Marcus, copresident of Debmar-Mercury. Marcus’ view is that this trend toward must-watch shows helps first-run syndication because, “shows like [Debmar-Mercury’s] Wendy Williams are cutting edge and need to be watched daily.”
BROADWAY CHANNEL DELIVERS HOLIDAY CHEER
Broadway Channel’s one-off special, What’s Hot on Broadway—Hot for the Holidays has been cleared in 65% of the country as a preview to the weekly series, What’s Hot on Broadway.
The special has been cleared in all top-ten markets, including Fox-owned WNYW New York, KTTV Los Angeles and WFLD Chicago. It also will air on three NBC owned stations: WCAU Philadelphia, WRC Washington, D.C., and WVIT Hartford, Conn., and on three CBS-owned stations: KTVT Dallas, KPIX San Francisco and WFOR Miami.
Other station groups picking up the show include Cox, Gannett, Graham Media, Hearst, Journal Broadcast Group, Lin, Media General, Meredith, Mission, Nextar, Raycom, Scripps, Sinclair and others.
What’s Hot on Broadway is being offered at this year’s NATPE show in Miami as a weekly series starring John O’Hurley, who previously starred on Seinfeld and Family Feud.