Syndicator Snapshots

Oct 2, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Each of the eight major syndicators is facing some kind of challenge or transition when it comes to its business. While some companies are adjusting to an executive changing of the guard, others are adapting to new models or business strategies that would have seemed outlandish a few years ago. Highlights of each company’s challenges follow.

Buena Vista Sits Out First-Run for Fall, Focuses on Off-Network Drama Pipeline

Buena Vista Television, which distributes for sister company Buena Vista Productions, did not launch a new first-run syndicated strip this fall, a trend becoming more common for the big syndicators. Earlier this year BVTV pulled daytime talker “The Tony Danza Show” off the air after two seasons.

Some of the company’s biggest syndication properties within the next two seasons are likely to be its off-network fare, including the powerhouse one-hours “Desperate Housewives,” “Lost” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

The company is in first-run development for fall 2007. Buena Vista Television President Janice Marinelli was not available for comment.

Buena Vista Television

First-run highlights: Talk shows “Live With Regis and Kelly”; game show “Millionaire”; weekend series “Ebert & Roeper” Off-network highlights: comedies “According to Jim,” “Scrubs,” “Home Improvement” and “My Wife and Kids”; drama “Alias”

King World Brand Stays for Stalwart Shows While CBS Execs Do Corporate Shuffle

Following the consolidation of King World and CBS Paramount Domestic Television into the CBS Television Distribution Group, existing programs bearing the King World moniker, such as No. 1 syndicated talk show “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and new talker “Rachael Ray,” will keep their King World stamp. Going forward, though, new programs will be branded under the new company name.

As part of the new company’s executive roster, CEO Roger King’s lieutenant Robert Madden is sharing president and chief operating officer duties with former CBS Paramount Domestic Television President John Nogawski.

Although the company would not comment, CBS Paramount Domestic Television President Greg Meidel is said to be leaving the company.

The consolidation between King World and CBS Paramount has been progressing rapidly over the past year, with mergers in operations such as the divisions’ development and publicity departments. But the move last week to wholly combine the companies officially merges the giants’ programming slates, which include the top shows in nearly every genre. This gives CTDG at least seven or eight regular performers in the top 10 spots in the weekly highest-rated shows in syndication.

CBS Television Distribution Group

First-run highlights: Talk shows “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Dr. Phil”; courtroom shows “Judge Judy” and “Judge Joe Brown”; game shows “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!”; magazines “Entertainment Tonight,” “Inside Edition” and “The Insider”

Off-network highlights: Comedies “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Girlfriends” and “Frasier,” dramas from the “CSI” franchise

MGM Mining Library Brands for New Offerings

That Encompass Non-Traditional Models

With more than 4,000 movie titles and 10,000 hours of series television, MGM has one of the most extensive content libraries in the world. With the recent promotion of Jim Packer to president of the company, including a boost in responsibilities for key distribution and sales staff, the company is looking to develop new product off its established brands.

But that doesn’t mean MGM is creating a traditional first-run syndication development model for itself, Mr. Packer said.

“I don’t think we are going into the ‘Hey, let’s spend $20 million on a talk show and see if it works’ space. That’s not going to be the strategy for us. The strategy for us is to grow our business in the marketplace today.”

Mr. Packer hopes to develop projects along the lines of MGM’s recently announced TV adaptation of Mel Brooks’ “Spaceballs” with cabler G4, or its TV movies and direct-to-video titles.

Mr. Packer is also hoping to emulate the success of Debmar-Mercury, which distributes “South Park” and is developing a first-run syndicated sitcom.

“They have done a very good job of getting stuff on the air with very limited staff,” he said. There’s no reason why we couldn’t do that and be opportunistic at the same time.”

MGM Worldwide Television Distribution Group

Programming highlights: Dramas “Stargate SG-1,” “Stargate: Atlantis” and “Outer Limits”

NBCU Seeks New Revenue Streams, Exploring Non-Daytime Time Periods

While NBC Universal Domestic TV Distribution is focused on developing shows for its sister station group, the company “has other shows in development that are not for NBC,” said Barry Wallach, president of the division.

Both “Martha” and newcomer “The Megan Mullally Show” are NBC Universal-owned station shows, but “Maury” and “Springer,” which came into the NBC fold in 2004 when the company bought Universal, are Tribune-owned station staples.

In the current marketplace, companies like NBC Universal can’t simply launch a show and expect to make money in syndication like they did a decade ago, Mr. Wallach said, noting that additional revenue streams have to be created to make the finances work on a show like “Megan,” NBC Universal’s newest talk show.

“Megan” has been designed to create new revenue streams “in success,” he said. “Clearly, something on our minds is how do you generate multiple sources of revenue going forward and take advantage of the television platform?”

Daytime “has gotten very hard for everybody,” Mr. Wallach said, adding that he sees potential in access and late-fringe time periods, plus the ability to profit from NBC Universal’s upcoming off-network drama properties. But even in the toughest time periods, possibilities exist, he said.

“No matter what happens with consolidation, no matter what happens with ratings, there’s always opportunity,” Mr. Wallach said. “The needs are always going to be there, unless TV stations turn off their transmitters.”

NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution

First-run highlights: Talk shows “The Megan Mullally Show,” “Martha,” “Jerry Springer” and “Maury”; newsmagazine “Access Hollywood”; numerous weekend half-hours, including “The Chris Matthews Show”

Off-network highlights: Reality series “Fear Factor”; dramas from the “Law & Order” franchise and the upcoming “Monk,” “Las Vegas” and “House”

Busy Twentieth Balances MyNetwork, Full Off-Net Slate, First-Run Innovations

Twentieth Television is one of the busiest syndication companies around.

While Twentieth, the programming and distribution arm of Fox Television Stations, is dealing with the challenge of providing the entire slate of prime-time programming for MyNetworkTV, the company continues to develop first-run fare and distribute a full slate of off-network properties.

Twentieth’s English-language telenovelas, initially designed to launch an innovative syndicated program format, now comprise MyNetworkTV’s entire week of shows.

The company continues to explore new ways to thrive in the ever-changing syndication marketplace.

Bob Cook, Twentieth TV’s president and chief operating officer, called the company’s planned two-hour live game show block and U.K. transplant “Games Fever” for its sister station group’s MyNetworkTV stations “potentially a game changer in the business,” since the business model relies on revenue from additional streams, such as text-messaging and product integration.

“It’s going to be an exciting test for the company,” Mr. Cook said.

As far as current first-run fare, “Geraldo at Large,” cleared in only 75 percent of the country, is “the little engine that could” considering its ratings, Mr. Cook said. “We’re still adding

Twentieth Television

First-run highlights: Newsmagazine “Geraldo at Large”; court shows “Divorce Court,” “Cristina’s Court” and “Judge Alex”

Off-network highlights: Comedies “The Simpsons,” “King of the Hill,” “Bernie Mac” and the upcoming “Family Guy”; drama “24”

Sony Keeps ‘Realistic Expectations’ In Face of Marketplace Changes

Sony Pictures Television, which produces the top-rated syndicated game shows “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” for distributor King World and is in development on new game show properties with the company, does not see the formation of CBS Television Distribution Group altering their partnership, said John Weiser, Sony’s president of distribution.

“It does not impact our relationship with King World. We have multiple ties to CBS and The CW,” Mr. Weiser said.

Like NBC, Sony must create new revenue streams as a reaction to market changes.

“As fragmentation and rising costs have increased, so have multiple opportunities to monetize a property where older rules had more limitations,” Mr. Weiser said, noting that syndicated shows like Sony’s “The Greg Behrendt Show” now have cable repurposing and are streaming episodes on Web sites belonging to stations that clear the show.

While cable runs in addition to syndication clearances are old hat for off-network programming, online streaming of episodes is new ground for the company’s sitcoms.

“Different products evolve from a distinct strategic standpoint,” he said. Sony will continue to develop projects that “fill a need in the marketplace,” but the onus is on Sony to set production and marketing budgets that reflect revenues. “We need to set realistic expectations,” Mr. Weiser said.

Sony Pictures Television

First-run highlights: Talk show “The Greg Behrendt Show”; court shows “Judge Maria Lopez” and “Judge Hatchett”

Off-network highlights: Comedies “Seinfeld,” “King of Queens” and “Just Shoot Me”; dramas “The Shield” and “Six Feet Under”

New Warner Bros. Chief: Success Lies in Station Ties

Despite the lack of a sister station group, Warner Bros. is “dedicated to being in the content business,” said the TV distribution company’s new president, Ken Werner, the former WB executive who in August replaced longtime Warner Bros. topper Dick Robertson, a 40-year syndication veteran.

“We also believe we have great marketing resources,” Mr. Werner added, noting that quality content and marketing must come together in the current marketplace if syndicated programming is going to succeed.

For Warner Bros., providing a variety of shows for a range of stations also has helped the company stay competitive when putting its product up against shows that may come from a station group’s corporately owned studio. But that means local stations and Warner Bros. must work hand in hand on programs, Mr. Werner said.

“We are going to look at them to support us on an economic basis and a marketing basis,” he said, pointing as an example to Warner Bros.’ partnership with the Fox-owned stations that run “Tyra.”

For Mr. Werner, “The challenge is as we rationalize the underlying economics,” stations “need to understand the changes in the environment,” he said. “Forming that partnership will lead to success.” N

Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution

First-run highlights: Talk shows “The Dr. Keith Ablow Show,” “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “The Tyra Banks Show”; newsmagazine “Extra”; court shows “People’s Court”

and “Judge Mathis”

Off-network highlights: Comedies “Friends,” “Sex and the City” and the upcoming “Two and a Half Men”; dramas “Without a Trace” and “Smallville”

Tribune Will Not Produce Solo, Must Partner to Serve Sibling Stations

Tribune Entertainment, which once distributed several weekly action hours and daytime talk shows, is not expected to produce first-run programming on its own anymore. Instead, the division of Tribune Broadcasting plans to continue to partner with producers to help direct shows to the Tribune stations.

Tribune Entertainment currently performs ad sales, distribution and other back-office duties for FremantleMedia North America’s game show “Family Feud” and the off-network reality series “American Idol: Rewind.” The company carries out similar duties for Debmar-Mercury’s off-cable comedy “South Park,” Don Cornelius’s weekly dance show “Soul Train” and syndicated movie packages for DreamWorks.

In addition, the company’s station group is in a partnership with Sony on “The Greg Behrendt Show,” though Sony still handles ad sales and distribution, something Tribune Entertainment would like to do itself. For this coming season, Tribune is expected to explore taking on another game show and a series focused on a teen audience.

Due to conversations taking place on The Tribune Co.’s board, the head of Tribune Entertainment, Executive VP and General Manager Clark Morehouse, could not comment on the state of the company.

Tribune Entertainment

Programming highlights: The company has no first-run or off-network shows of its own on the air right now. The last first-run talk show Tribune Entertainment produced and distributed was “Beyond With James Van Praagh,” which was canceled during its debut 2002-03 season.