Twentieth Television's second-cycle renewal of its animated hit Family Guy brings good news and bad news to syndication.
The bad news is that while Twentieth did manage to get the show renewed for cash license fees, the syndicator had to take more than 50% off its price tag to complete its deal with Tribune.
The good news is that Twentieth got cash at all. For a while, industry talk indicated that Twentieth would be forced to renew Family Guy for only barter, like every other sitcom sold in 2009.
“From a timing standpoint, the marketplace is getting better, advertising is getting better and TV stations are getting healthier. We saw that as an opportunity,” says Paul Franklin, Twentieth's executive VP of sales.
Stations from both the Tribune and Fox groups have renewed Family Guy, with Tribune's WGN sharing the show in the Chicago market with Weigel's WCIU. Besides the cash license fees, stations keep 5½ minutes of advertising inventory in each episode, while Twentieth keeps 1½ minutes.
Tribune also picked up American Dad on an all-barter basis. American Dad will launch on stations on weekends only this fall, while airing on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim late-night block on weeknights. It will then expand into a strip in fall 2011 for a four-year run.
While Family Guy does not have the same broad appeal to audiences and advertisers as Warner Bros.' Two and a Half Men, it is a strong performer, leading all of syndication among adults 18-34 and tying Two and a Half Men for the top spot in 18-49. Family Guy appeals particularly to young men, a hard-to-reach demographic for stations.
The next real test of the station market comes this spring when Warner Bros. brings the off-network rights to The Big Bang Theory out for sale. In its new 9:30 p.m. ET time slot on CBS, Big Bang Theory now outperforms Two and a Half Men among adults 18-49 and is on a steady growth track. Observers expect at least four cable networks to bid for the show, which will drive up its price and keep exclusivity out of TV station hands.
While top-notch off-net sitcoms can be expensive, stations ignore them at their peril. Two and a Half Men and Family Guy gave the Tribune stations a much-needed ratings boost when the group was struggling. According to Sean Compton, Tribune's senior VP of programming and entertainment, “Family Guy has played a key role for our stations' sitcom blocks by delivering strong numbers and healthy demos. I'd be stupid not to renew one of our highest-rated shows.”
Conversely, stations have to be careful when they negotiate terms for off-net sitcoms because ratings can plunge, leaving stations with long-term, expensive deals for shows with falling ratings.
Year-to-year, most off-net sitcoms are down, although Warner Bros.' Friends, now in its 12th season in syndication, is seeing some growth in both households and adults 18-49 on WPIX New York, WGN Chicago, KTVU San Francisco, WLVI Boston and WATL Atlanta. On a national basis, Friends is down 22% year-to-year for the week ended Dec. 20, 2009.
Off-net sitcoms holding up the best are Warner Bros.' George Lopez, down 3% year-to-year, and Two and a Half Men, down 6% for the week ended Dec. 20. Twentieth's King of the Hill, which Fox canceled, is up 15% due to improved time periods.
Family Guy is down 19% year-to-year, partially explaining its license-fee cuts. Sony's King of Queens, in its seventh year of syndication, is down 54%. Among other vets, Sony's Seinfeld, in its 15th year of syndication, is down 27%; CBS Television Distribution's Everybody Loves Raymond, in year nine, has fallen 24%.