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King Size

Oct 2, 2006  •  Post A Comment

After years under the same corporate roof, CBS Corp.’s two syndication entities, CBS Paramount Domestic Television and King World Productions, are finally being consolidated into one division: the CBS Television Distribution Group.

The move, announced last week, places former CBS Corp. and King World Enterprises CEO Roger King, considered one of the greatest salespeople in the television business, at the top of the new company as CEO.

Mr. King, also known as one of the most colorful and successful executives in the history of syndication, is for the first time in his career assuming the top job at a company that does not include his name.

Mr. King long ago transitioned from the world of independent syndication to a more corporate position in a big company.

“I’ve been working for a big corporation for the last six years,” Mr. King said last week, noting that CBS bought King World in 1999, before CBS and Viacom merged. CBS paid $2.5 billion for King World, distributor of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Dr. Phil” and the new “Rachael Ray.”

“There will be an opportunity to grow the company,” he said. “We won’t compete directly. We’ll be one huge company.”

The move is one of several recent shifts among the biggest eight syndication companies operating today. It is also

one additional step toward the consolidation among the syndie players forecast by many observers of the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996, which abolished the old Financial-Syndication rules. Doing away with Fin-Syn meant the networks could also own syndicated shows.

There are fewer syndication companies and fewer shows being brought to market than in 1996.

It is now common for distributors to sit out a season. After a handful of distributors, including King World CBS Paramount, sat out the new first-run game last season and only three new first-run strips were introduced, seven new first-run shows launched this fall.

Just 10 years ago, amid several changes in the business climate and in regulation such as the Fin-Syn decision, people in the industry said they were concerned about fewer shows coming to market. Still, two companies no longer in existence, MTM and New World. brought out two and three new shows, respectively, for fall 1996 debuts (Electronic Media, Jan. 8, 1996).

In the new architecture of fewer, bigger players than ever, it remains to be seen how many syndicated shows will be offered each year, what they will look like and in what sorts of deals they will be sold.

Multiple station executives in various markets declined to comment about the merger, but one station executive expressed serious concern that too much programming is now under the control of a single entity that could then limit the amount of new programming choices.

But for others in the syndication business, the move wasn’t that big of a deal.

“I doubt it means a whole lot,” said Garnett Losak, VP and director of programming for Petry TV, who noted that the spate of consolidation over the past decade may have had less to do with Fin-Syn and more to do with a general business trend in the U.S. toward big mergers.

“There are a lot of things that happened that contributed to consolidation, but there were others-economic and judicial and political,” she said.

John Nogawski, who along with Robert Madden shares president and chief operating officer duties at CTDG, said the new company’s size alone does not make it more likely to launch a hit, pointing to his new boss as an example.

“You can be the smallest company in the business with a great show and you will succeed,” he said. “Roger is the epitome of that truth.”

While syndication executives at many companies have repeatedly said small companies with a good idea can break into the first-run game, recent examples are few and far between. The most recent successful shows were developed off of existing franchises, such as the new CTDG’s own “Entertainment Tonight” spinoff “The Insider” and “Dr. Phil,” which had the benefit of coming out of “Oprah.”

Mr. King will bring the small-company sensibility to the new organization, Mr. Madden said, noting that at King World his boss was quick to adapt to unforeseen developments in the business and refocus King World’s efforts when necessary.

“So long as Roger King is at the helm, we are also a small company,” Mr. Madden said. “With Roger at the top, we’ve always been very flexible and very agile in the marketplace.”

While CTDG is the culmination of two of the biggest companies in syndication, smaller firms have been able to find profitable niches, even in markets that some industry insiders have considered the exclusive territory of heavyweights. Program Partners has been successful in bringing off-network Canadian dramas into the U.S. marketplace, while Debmar-Mercury has enjoyed success with off-cable comedy and dramas, plus has taken steps to revisit the first-run comedy business with the planned Monday-through-Friday rollout of the sitcom “House of Payne.”

In the meantime, CTDG is likely to remain successful, said veteran talent agent Babette Perry, the newly named VP of broadcasting on the West Coast for management company IMG.

“Roger anywhere is [where] I’m going,” Ms. Perry said, noting Mr. King is trusted in the station community to deliver what he promises.

“There’s no gamble,” Ms. Perry said. “You know he’s a proven commodity.”

Highlights of the recent changes at the biggest syndication companies follow.