‘Catch,’ ‘Chopper’ Headed to Syndie

Oct 28, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Discovery Communications is moving into syndication for the first time, making two of its highest-rated series available in broadcast syndication.
The cable giant hired Debmar-Mercury to sell “Deadliest Catch” and “American Chopper” to local stations. The company, run by Mort Marcus and Ira Bernstein, has a history of distributing off-cable shows, beginning with Comedy Central’s “South Park.”
Both series will be available as weekend shows on a barter basis, with the stations getting seven minutes of ad time per hour and Discovery holding on to seven minutes.
Discovery, rather than Debmar-Mercury, will handle the sale of advertising.
Discovery CEO David Zaslav has identified syndication as a potential source of new revenues.
The company owns the rights to much of its programming and has 100,000 hours of content in its library.
Mr. Zaslav brought in Joel Berman, former president of worldwide television distribution for Paramount Pictures and CBS Paramount, as a consultant overseeing syndication.
“I’ve been working on a variety of projects for him, but probably the biggest is looking at the Discovery library and looking at different ways we can expand the Discovery brand,” Mr. Berman said. “Clearly, if we’re successful, if we have enough quality series, long-term, it would make a lot of sense for us to continue with the weekend syndication model that we’re developing here.”
In addition to bringing in revenue, he said, syndication should expose the Discovery programming to a wider audience, which also helps Discovery and the shows.
The move by Discovery appears to be part of a trend of reality shows moving from cable into syndication, said Garnett Losak, VP and director of programming at Petry Media. The Weather Channel also put its “Storm Stories” program into syndication this year.
“It’s sort of unique and new, something we need to ponder and figure out and deal with, and apply some sort of value to, without a whole lot of precedent,” she said.
Ms. Losak said weekend syndication is not a particularly lucrative area for television stations, adding that the off-network hours have been mediocre performers.
“This is an opportunity for some stations to look at a different format, so I think that’s kind of good,” she said.
Mr. Berman said it didn’t make sense for Discovery to start its own syndication operation and that Debmar-Mercury was the only distributor he approached for the project.
“They had real enthusiasm for the projects and they were a natural choice,” he said.
Mort Marcus, co-president of Debmar-Mercury, said he had approached Discovery about syndicating “Trading Spaces” when it was a hit. “At the time, they didn’t want to exploit their assets. I guess now it’s a different marketplace,” he said.
Since then, Debmar-Mercury has managed the successful syndication of “South Park” to stations in late-night time periods.
Mr. Marcus said, “It was considered a little dangerous on both sides, both from how would an off-cable show play on broadcast, and also from Comedy Central’s perspective, would it hurt ‘South Park’?”
It turned out the show drew strong ratings on broadcast stations, generated a lot of syndication revenue and brought new viewers to Comedy Central and its first-run “South Park” episodes, he said.
Since then, Debmar-Mercury has handled other off-cable shows, including “Farscape,” “Dead Zone” and “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.”
“The cable side has been an important part of the growth of our little company,” Mr. Marcus said.
“American Chopper” will be available to stations in September 2008 and “Deadliest Catch” in September 2009 for two years each.
Both shows attract adults 18 to 49 and skew male, making them appropriate for stations with sports adjacencies, Mr. Marcus said.
“There will probably be many markets where the same station will buy both, but not every station has room for both so it could be that we split them,” he said.
He said he hoped to have the first deals completed in a month or so.


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