Terry Murphy's innovative approach to bringing The Security Brief with Paul Viollis to market signifies several significant trends happening in syndication right now.
The first, and most obvious, is the crime wave that’s sweeping daytime. Audiences that watch daytime are proven viewers of true crime, best indicated by the meteoric rise of Investigation Discovery, which has grown into a top-five cable network among women 25-54 since launching in 2008. And that’s in an environment where most cable networks are losing viewers.
Syndicators have been trying to bring crime to daytime for a while, but finally succeeded this fall with Warner Bros.’ Crime Watch Daily, which plays like a magazine. Security Brief, which Sinclair has signed on to test for four weeks in 13 markets starting Dec. 21, is a crime-focused talk show. While talk has always dabbled in crime—Oprah Winfrey often aired entire episodes on true-crime stories and crime-oriented talk shows have been tested over the years—it’s not a staple of syndication the way court or game is.
Another possible trend the show might be ahead of is Murphy’s potentially risky move to produce 75 episodes of the show—going on 150—before even securing a distributor.
“I’ve been doing everything backwards,” says Murphy, a veteran daytime producer who’s making the show under the aegis of her Manhattan-based East 86th Productions. “But at the end of the day, we’ll have a library of content we can monetize.”
That leads into another potential trend that other buyers and sellers have mentioned: With viewer consumption changing so drastically over the last few years, it’s no longer a requirement to clear a show in national syndication in order to go forward. Beyond syndication, shows can be distributed on cable, digital platforms and internationally. At B&C’s TV Week in New York on Oct. 21, Debmar-Mercury co-president Mort Marcus mentioned that his company has created significant revenue by airing a Wendy Williams after-show and other clips on YouTube.
“It’s a different model,” says Bill Carroll, senior VP, director of content strategy for Katz Television Group. “It’s looking at different ways to monetize content and to come into the syndication arena. The biggest problem with syndication in the past has consistently been the inability for producers to cover the costs of shows. If you already have that covered, then you are looking for the best distribution opportunity as opposed to just how to cover the cost.”
Debmar-Mercury has led the way in creating new ways to syndicate shows, allowing potential buyers to test shows and then asking them to commit to 90 or 100 episodes upfront. Murphy is taking those concepts a step further by securing financing upfront and then having many episodes in the can. That could allow Sinclair to keep airing the show beyond the four-week test if the group finds it’s having success on its stations.
Murphy also is looking to monetize the show by baking branded integrations into the second half of each episode, in what she calls our “solution segments.”
“If a show isn’t too expensive to produce and you grow it over time, you can have a five-, 10-, 15-year franchise,” says Murphy. “Those are the money makers.”