Twentieth Television is prepping to take The Simpsons into cable syndication,
sources confirmed Monday. That sale is expected to rake in as much as $1
billion or more in additional revenue for 21st Century Fox.
The show, which is headed into its 25th season on Fox, has
been in syndication on TV stations since 1994. In the original deal, stations
agreed to pay cash to air the show until it went off the network. That deal has
since turned out to be a huge boon to stations, and a problem for News Corp.,
which has been unable to further monetize the show on cable and subscription
video on demand (SVOD) platforms since then.
That appears to be changing.
"With the platforms evolving and discussions ongoing
with [Twentieth's] broadcast syndication partners, it has opened up the
possibility of The Simpsons going to cable," said a source close to
the negotiations who declined to be named.
TV stations will have to allow for changes in their original
deal in order for the show to go to cable, although what those changes will be
remains unclear. Previously, it was thought that The Simpsons would have
to end its run on Fox in order to free it up to head to cable, but that may no
longer be the case.
The Simpsons remains strong on Fox, where it is
likely to be renewed past season 25. It's also doing well with ancillary
products, such as its iOS game, "Tapped Out," which is one of the
top-selling games on iTunes, and its themed rides at Universal Studios Orlando.
Twentieth -- which just moved out from under the purview of
Roger Ailes and Jack Abernethy at the Fox Television Stations and now reports
in to Gary Newman and Dana Walden at Twentieth Century Fox Television -- plans
to take the show to cable networks in the next few months, with a possible
premiere for The Simpsons on cable in 2014.
Networks that could bid on the show include News Corp.'s own
FXX, a youth-targeted comedy network that will premiere in late September, as
well as Turner's TBS, Viacom's Comedy Central and NBCU's USA Network and
Esquire Network. Whether or not the initial deal will include an SVOD run
remains unclear, although sources say the first sales push will be on cable.
Sources also expect the entire Simpsons library of
500-plus episodes to go to one buyer, as opposed to being broken up into