Start-Up Saw Void in Syndie Market

Jan 1, 2007  •  Post A Comment

As a company looking to make a big splash heading into its first NATPE conference, Trifecta Entertainment and Media is entering January on a roll. The distributor recently announced deals to syndicate weekly series featuring two well-established brands that are broadening their reach in the television marketplace: Jack Hanna and the Ultimate Fighting Championship. And that was just its opening act.

“We are really trying to make a name for ourselves in an area where it’s tough to compete with the big guys,” said Hank Cohen, partner and CEO of Trifecta. “Since we are the new kid on the block and didn’t have existing off-net series to sell, we thought it was vital to bring as many high-profile main shows to the market as we could. That meant we should at least be able to have names that people recognize to be able to go in with sound programming options for the stations.”

After announcing the company in October, Trifecta is fashioning itself as a full-service production-barter sales-distribution company that specializes in smaller-scale properties overlooked by the ever-consolidating syndication giants. Mr. Cohen noted that he was quick to see profitable holes that opened up when many other syndicators, especially among the majors, shied away from first-run programming in the weekend timeslots.

“We quickly noticed that the smaller jobs were falling through the cracks, and we plan to capitalize on those opportunities,” he said. “Five years ago, this would have been tougher to do.”

Mr. Cohen is no stranger to the demographic. The company quietly launched last year with seed money from an exit deal Mr. Cohen struck with MGM. Trifecta took producing fees from shows Mr. Cohen ran at MGM-including “Stargate SG1,” “Stargate: Atlantis” and Showtime’s “Barbershop”-in exchange for Mr. Cohen’s continuing to oversee the shows for a one-year term.

Hanna on Hand

At NATPE, the fruits of that investment will be open for all to see. Stars from the UFC series as well as Jack Hanna will be attending the market.

The first deal announced by the company took on the growing UFC empire, which had been scoring ratings with Spike, selling out live events and attracting high pay-per-view buys and DVD sales. With a clear appeal to the young male demographic, Mr. Cohen said he was quick to see an obvious match with the underserved weekly syndicated show.

Young males at one time were the primary target of weekend syndicated series. Less than 10 years ago, “Xena: Warrior Princess,” “Hercules,” “Baywatch,” “VIP” and other original action-oriented series scored outstanding ratings for their stations and syndicators with high appeal to the young male crowd on the weekends, despite stiff competition from sports broadcasts. However, high production costs, a slowing international market and falling ratings brought an end to the era.

Trifecta is looking to change that with the company’s deal with UFC. The upcoming weekly syndication hour “UFC Wired” will be sold to broadcast stations for the 2007-08 season on a full barter basis. Every week the series will feature UFC athletes competing in the company’s famed Octagon ring. Other series featuring the UFC celebrities have already brought loyal viewers flocking to Spike TV, where the series has been successful in capturing the elusive male 18 to 34 demographic. Six of the top 10 series on Spike last season among men 18 to 49 were UFC shows, which scored ratings as high as 2.0 among men 18 to 49.

“It’s just great entertainment,” Mr. Cohen said. “Not only is it faster than boxing, but the UFC speaks more to the current climate of younger people. Stations are taking a closer look at demos, and we have a program that can deliver this loyal audience base. It’s huge; to be on the ground floor with something like this is very exciting for us.”

With the announcement of Jack Hanna’s first new series in a decade, “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild,” the worldwide appeal of Mr. Hanna, a longtime syndication staple, was obvious for the distributor.

“Hanna is an iconic television figure who is recognized and embraced by all demographic groups,” said Bill Trotter, who oversees broadcast sales for Trifecta. “No other show is as FCC friendly, meets the Educational and Informational Children’s Programming Standards and is as purely entertaining as `Into the Wild.’ There is simply no daypart where this terrific new show will not be a welcome addition to any station’s lineup.”

The half-hour weekly series follows the true-life adventures of Mr. Hanna and his friends and family as they travel the globe in search of the ultimate animal experience. Trifecta executives considered the deal a coup, given the company’s direction.

“We think syndication affords us an opportunity to find our place among distributors as long as we are able to zig when everyone else was zagging,” Mr. Cohen said.