Sony Shifts Focus as Quivers Fizzles

May 9, 2005  •  Post A Comment

After months of trying to sell a syndicated talk strip fronted by radio personality Robin Quivers to various station groups, Sony Pictures Television has abandoned hopes of launching the show in fall 2005.

The company instead has shifted its sights to fall 2006 and other development possibilities as it continues to seek its next chance at rolling out a new strip. Sony, one of the last major syndicators not aligned with a station group, struck a deal last week with the Tribune Broadcasting stations and the Tribune Entertainment Co. to develop and produce first-run programs.

The deal calls for Sony and Tribune Entertainment to co-produce a daytime program to air on the Tribune stations starting in fall 2006. The pact is open-ended, however, as it has no set expiration date. Sony is expected to have responsibility for making station deals, while Tribune will handle barter ad sales.

Sony declined to comment for this story, and Tribune Broadcasting executives were unavailable for comment. Dick Askin, president and CEO of Tribune Entertainment, said the partnership makes sense in a marketplace where daytime strips are considered a success with a 1.0 household rating even though breaking even requires hitting a 2.0.

“It’s kind of a win-win situation for Tribune and Sony in the sense that we are both contributing creative and economic elements to get projects on the air without having to carry the financial burden alone,” Mr. Askin said.

Sony found out the hard way just how burdensome carrying a project alone was this past year, when the National Association of Television Program Executives convention in late January came and went with no major clearances announced for Ms. Quivers’ proposed strip. A couple of months later it became clear that the two strips Sony debuted in fall 2004, “Life & Style” and “Pat Croce: Moving In,” would not be back for sophomore seasons (TelevisionWeek, April 4).

The Quivers project could land on the Tribune stations in fall 2006 as part of the new deal. Though Sony declined to comment on the show’s status, sources said Sony and Ms. Quivers have extended their partnership through 2006. Tribune Broadcasting had at least considered the project.

The development agreement between Tribune and Sony grew out of discussions Sony had with the Tribune stations when it was trying to clear Ms. Quivers’ strip for fall 2005, sources said. Even though a decision on a project with Ms. Quivers was tabled for the upcoming season, the talks opened up a wider conversation about how the two entities could mitigate the increasing financial risk of debuting shows and ensure new product would get good enough clearances to succeed.

Tribune executives had said the station group was looking for a strip for fall 2005 that was compatible with its rowdy talk linchpins “Maury” and “Jerry Springer,” both of which are distributed by NBC Universal Domestic Television. While at first glance Ms. Quivers, who became a household name for her longtime association with radio shock jock Howard Stern, looked like she might be compatible with “Maury” and “Springer,” Sony initially pitched the project as softer and more female-focused than Mr. Stern’s show.

Tribune Entertainment, which is dedicated in part to producing programs for the co-owned Tribune Broadcasting stations, had developed with Sony a pilot for a revival of “Real People” for a possible fall 2005 debut, but the show did not go forward. The last strip Tribune Entertainment launched was the former series “Beyond With James Van Praagh,” which launched in fall 2002.

“It is inevitable,” said Stacey Lynn Koerner, executive VP and director of global research integration for Initiative Media, of Sony’s agreement with Tribune. “This is a production company without any viable stations for distribution, and a station group that isn’t tied to any programming group.”

Tribune made a similar three-year pact with the pre-NBC merger Universal Television. That deal led to the fall 2004 debut of the strip “Home Delivery, which was canceled in November 2004 at the behest of NBC Universal, despite favorable reviews from the Tribune stations and satisfaction with the strip from Tribune Entertainment.

NBC Universal’s priority now is to develop programming to play on the NBC owned-and-operated stations, which are in many of the same markets as the Tribune stations. As a result of NBCU’s strategy, its new programming is less likely to air on Tribune outlets. What’s more, the NBC stations tend to run fare that is not considered particularly “Springer”-compatible. Ms. Koerner said that though Sony will now have to split the profits of any hit shows that come out of the deal with Tribune, the company has a better chance to ultimately get more product launched. That’s something that has been harder for Sony to do since station groups are more likely to turn to their own production companies to buy shows.

In a statement in the news release announcing the Tribune-Sony deal, John Weiser, president of distribution for Sony Pictures Television, concurred. “We recognize that in this vertically integrated marketplace, succeeding in syndication requires a collaborative, targeted approach that meets the needs of stations,” he said.

“The issue really is about the longer range play and getting the Sony product distributed with good clearances on bigger stations,” Ms. Koerner said. “If you introduce something successfully, you can introduce new product behind it in future years.”