As station-group meetings kicked off late last week, the big question for Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution (WBDTD) is whether it can ignite an all-out bidding war for off-network episodes of Two and a Half Men.
The two largest groups in the running are Fox and Tribune, and everyone will tune in to see if WBDTD President Dick Robertson can achieve a record haul for Men. Stocked with aging episodes of Friends, Tribune is in need of top-tier, off-network product after Fox went on a sitcom-buying spree under former station-group head Lachlan Murdoch.
Station executives, however, speculate that Fox may have a tough time justifying another huge expense as those programming costs come due over the next few years—especially with its Twentieth Television unit readying Family Guy for a fall 2007 or ’08 off-net launch, which Fox is sure to be interested in.
To get the price it wants, Warner Bros. will also have to persuade cable networks to pay a premium to get Men prior to its fourth syndicated year, traditionally when sitcoms transition to basic cable. But no one on the cable side is believed to have stepped up yet with a preemptive bid, leaving stations to prepare for the intense negotiations with Warner Bros. lying ahead.
While some potential buyers question whether Men will command A-list sitcom prices, Robertson nonetheless remains confident it is in a strong position, given the drought of successful off-network adult sitcoms.
Streaming Greg Behrendt
Sony Pictures Television (SPT), meanwhile, announced it will offer stations the ability to stream same-day episodes of The Greg Behrendt Show on their Web sites when the first-run series debuts this fall. SPT’s game plan differs from how Warner Bros. will stream Men (B&C, 5/8, p. 6). Sony will allow stations to carry the talk/relationship show for a 24-hour period on the day of broadcast, while affiliates can add the same Men episodes to their Web sites the week after they air. SPT will also enable stations to sell local broadcast spots for a premium broadcast and Web run, while Warner Bros. will give broadcasters half the Web inventory (perhaps one spot) to sell exclusively for their sites. Both studios will use technology that prevents viewers from fast-forwarding through ads.
“This plan gives all viewers a chance to experience Greg Behrendt in a variety of ways, ” said SPT Distribution President John Weiser, “while giving stations great online content and an additional opportunity to offer advertisers.”
Over at NBC Universal, new domestic television chief David Zaslav notes that last week’s consolidation of cable, broadcast and new-media distribution under one roof—and shifting international TV operations into a separately run division—should enable the company to better grapple with new distribution models.
“It’s not just about selling shows but about VOD, broadband, wireless,” Zaslav says. “What this does is take long- and short-form product and maximize its value through all forms of distribution.”
Zaslav says he and NBC Universal Domestic TV Distribution President Barry Wallach want to move fast in delivering content via new platforms but must be careful to create “meaningful” business models. They cite competitive reasons for not disclosing a timetable for introducing digital-distribution deals to complement those already in place, such as Access Hollywood on cellphones.