Entourage and Curb Your Enthusiasm may not have been the hits for HBO that Sopranos and Sex and the City were, but they are two shows with a lot to offer.
First, they appeal to men and, as everyone knows, it's harder to draw male-skewing audiences than female ones unless the network in question is ESPN. Tribune already attracts men with its off-net acquisitions Two and a Half Men and Family Guy. Adding Entourage and Curb to those lineups should only strengthen that position, says Sean Compton, Tribune's senior VP of programming and entertainment.
Tribune picked up the two shows to run in broadcast syndication on all 23 of its stations starting in fall 2010, after the cable run premieres on Spike in January.
The shows allow Tribune to introduce two virtually new programs to viewers and advertisers. Most TV watchers have heard of Entourage and Curb but haven't seen them. HBO is only distributed in 29% of the country, so many will be watching them for the first time on Tribune's stations.
“These are brand-new shows for many viewers,” says Scott Carlin, president of HBO Domestic Distribution. “Tribune essentially gets first-run original programming without the attendant risk because these shows are pre-branded.”
Likewise, it's also the first time that advertisers will have the chance to associate their brands with these shows.
“When TBS sold Sex and the City to advertisers for the first time, they were able to position that show differently than any show they've ever had,” Carlin says. “That brought new advertisers into their network. That's something local TV stations will be able to do with these shows. And given the state of the local TV advertising marketplace right now, I don't think this could be coming soon enough to them.”
Entourage and Curb also will serve as counterprogramming for Tribune in late fringe. NBC is going to all-talk at 10 p.m. with Jay Leno, starting this fall. TBS is introducing George Lopez at 11 p.m. in November, according to sources.
And while the deal is all-barter—an arrangement syndicators once scoffed at as the only way shows of lesser caliber could be sold—both HBO and Tribune are thrilled with the deal considering the state of the syndicated market.
“This is a response to the reality of the marketplace. [We're] trying to come up with a strategy and a business opportunity that works for the stations, works for us and works for the profit participants,” Carlin says.
In any case, HBO may never have had a window to get cash license fees for either of these shows. Tribune was always the likely launch group; sources say the pre-Sam Zell Tribune management also wanted to acquire both shows. With Tribune undergoing a sale and then bankruptcy, an all-barter deal was likely the best the group was going to be able to manage. Meanwhile Fox, the other big client for off-net sitcoms, was never expected to be a player.
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