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New Models for Off-Net

Aug 4, 2003  •  Post A Comment

As Buena Vista Television prepares to syndicate repeats of “Alias” and Twentieth Television hits the street with “24,” it’s becoming evident that the off-net-hour business has thrown away the marketing blueprint.
“Just when we think we had it figured out, we seem to see a radical shift in how to make a viable back-end market plan,” the head of one prominent off-net distributor said. Part of the challenge distributors are up against is the growing scarcity of time slots.
With cable now ordering more original programming and the prevalence of repurposing, open time slots in the wired world are becoming a rare commodity for the syndication of network dramas on basic cable.
This has left distributors in a lurch to find new models to exploit shows’ back-ends, especially for B-level series. Among the strategies syndicators are now considering: Whether to offer shows exclusively to cable, forge concurrent deals with multiple cable networks or return to the familiar broadcast-cable shared window. They’re also looking at new models for sharing barter advertising time.
Meanwhile, stations are facing their own time-period crunch. With weekend sports-related pre-emptions and the prevalence of sixth-day versions of strips and off-net sitcoms.
“I think the thing that we’re finding is that the appetite for A-product remains strong, yet appetite on both venues, broadcast and cable, is softening, so we have to maximize our opportunities,” said Bob Cook, president of Twentieth Television.
This fall Twentieth’s “Angel” and Warner Bros.’ “The West Wing” will enter the fray as the only new hours sold to both broadcasters and cable outlets. “Angel” will air on TNT, while “West Wing” has a deal with Bravo. In the 2004-05 season, King World’s “CSI” heads the pack with weekend broadcasts on stations and a run on TNN.
The 2005-06 season will feature some prominent names, all considered hits on their networks. “Alias” on ABC, “24” on Fox and “Smallville” on the WB are among the hours mulling their opportunities and post-network shelf life.
Janice Marinelli, president of Buena Vista Television, said, “As with most hours, our primary sale will be to cable, where I believe it can be a very successful strip. I also think there is still a marketplace in weekend syndication, so we will have to sort through our options in the next few weeks.”
Although more and more dramas are moving toward cable-exclusive deals, to sweeten the pot, one new trend among the deal-makers is to lower cable license fees and carry barter in both the cable and broadcast portions, thereby upping the overall cumed rating of the series.
This bucks the trend of earlier deals, which saw a strict cash-only license fee for a cable run. Already sitcoms “Friends,” “Seinfeld” and “Home Improvement” cume their cable and broadcast ratings, and some analysts expect that to trickle over into hours sooner rather than later.
Other options include multichannel cable deals, which also have blossomed in recent years. This effectively eliminates the need for a broadcast window, but several suppliers continue to make use of it. Among the series heading in this direction will be Universal’s “The District” in 2004, which sources said earned $700,000 an episode from USA and A&E. Other hours to go this way include Twentieth’s “NYPD Blue” for Court TV and TNT and “The X-Files” on Sci Fi and TNT.