Repurposing can help or hurt a network show

Jan 21, 2002  •  Post A Comment

For an industry in transition, still searching for a definitive new economic model, the concept of “repurposing” has become this season’s holy grail.
But is repurposing simply syndication speeded up and with a cable twist, or is it a new phenomenon not subject to the same historical ratings pitfalls?
Two separate studies, both scheduled to be unveiled at this week’s NATPE convention, might give executives some pause on their long march toward maximizing value by multiplexing their programming.
The first is a retrospective ratings study, undertaken by Magna Global USA, of the 54 series that have gone into syndication since 1987 while continuing their broadcast network runs. Forty-one of those series, or 76 percent, “suffered immediate network rating declines,” said Steve Sternberg, Magna’s senior VP and director of audience analysis. Those ratings declines for broadcast-network series also in syndication “included series that were already declining (81 percent) as well as series that were stable or growing (68 percent)” in their broadcast runs.”
The second study, conducted by E-Poll.com, is a recent online poll of 537 respondents who were asked about their viewing habits-and in particular about the reasons they watch off-network programming on cable networks. The E-Poll survey found a “positive relationship between the original network run of a program and its subsequent run on cable. Once an off-network program is aired on cable, awareness of the show on the original network significantly increases,” according to the study. Forty-seven percent of the study’s respondents “agree that once they watch an off-network show on cable, they are more likely to watch the show on its original network.”
Gerry Philpott, who heads E-Poll, said, “I think it’s a win-win when you repurpose. I think it helps.”
While it is impossible to predict which shows will suffer the most from syndication, the Magna study showed that series that fared the best were those that “started out poorly and became a hit after a season or two (e.g., `Seinfeld,’ `The X-Files,’ `Everybody Loves Raymond’),” shows that had “significant late-night clearances (e.g., `Seinfeld,’ `Frasier’)” and shows that “moved to a less competitive time period (e.g., `Mad About You’),” Magna’s Mr. Sternberg said.
While the Magna study itself does not directly address the issue of repurposing, Mr. Sternberg said the negative impact of cable repurposing on broadcast ratings will most likely turn out to be minor because cable ratings are a fraction of the broadcast ratings.
“I would imagine that the greatest impact would be on programs with the smallest gap between the broadcast and cable ratings,” he said. “For example, the cable rating for `Law & Order: SVU’ is about 10 percent as large as the NBC rating, so the impact is probably minimal.” For “Charmed,” whose TNT ratings represent a larger fraction of its WB numbers, “There might be a somewhat greater impact,” Mr. Sternberg said.
However, Jamie Kellner, chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting System, pointed to the repurposing of The WB’s “Charmed” on TNT. which has increased its viewership on a weekly basis by roughly 20 percent. “There’s almost no duplication whatsoever,” Mr. Kellner said.
A bigger issue yet to be answered, is what effect repurposing will have on the rating of a series once it is syndicated.