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Lopez a Syndie Bellwether?

Mar 29, 2009  •  Post A Comment

Comedian George Lopez’s new late-night cable show on TBS may be a preview of things to come for syndicated television distributors looking beyond the broadcast TV market.
Looking to launch at 11 p.m. in November, Mr. Lopez’s show has a fight ahead as it elbows into the field of competitors, including Jay Leno’s new show at 10 p.m. on NBC.
But a late-night cable show is better for Mr. Lopez than no show at all. The project initially was shopped to television stations by Warner Bros. and found no takers willing to pay. The program’s move to cable might represent an increasingly attractive option for syndicators looking to grab license fees they can’t find in the weakened broadcast syndication market.
Warner Horizon Television and Telepictures Productions, which are producing the show, are betting that in late night, they can find a niche not being served by the current competition.
“We felt that in this sea of sameness in late night, George Lopez can bring something new and different and speak to a younger, more diverse audience, which is currently underserved,” Hilary Estey McLoughlin, president of Telepictures, said.
Mr. Lopez’s program was well-received by station personnel, but the broadcasters couldn’t afford the license fees Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution was seeking, one executive familiar with the situation said.
That forced the distributor to begin discussions with TBS, leading to the agreement.
Cable has already become the first home of off-network shows like “The Office” and “Family Guy.”
Creating Competition
The arrival of Mr. Lopez’s show on cable may prompt syndicators to eye other programming possibilities on cable. That could create competition for stations seeking fresh content.
“The fact that [stations] were unable or unwilling to commit the resources to it and the project wound up with TBS may be a harbinger of things to come,” one executive familiar with the project said. “Will stations continue to pay for product, or will they lose it in other dayparts [to cable]?”
That question will become even more important as long-term syndication deals begin to expire in the next two years. Stations will look to renegotiate license fees with distributors in an environment that is creating lower broadcast revenue.
The concern over cable’s potential impact on syndication programming has already been raised by one of syndication’s largest stars, Oprah Winfrey. The contract for her syndicated show is set to expire in 2011.
If broadcasters’ ability to pay license fees for “Oprah” dips to the point where producing the show becomes difficult, it’s not clear what could happen next for the program.
While production costs could be cut to keep it attractive to stations, another possibility is a move to cable on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, owned by Harpo and Discovery Communications.
Bill Carroll, Katz Television Group’s vice president and director of programming, said Mr. Lopez’s show might represent a watermark for broadcast syndication. It’s too early to tell, however: He said stations’ ability to pay would have to fall by 50% for blue-chip programming while cable networks’ offers would have to double in order for there to be heated competition for programming between the two.
“In the end, it always comes down to who has the most money,” he said. In the current economic times, he said, broadcast stations will need to be frugal about programming.
Mr. Carroll said he expects syndicators to figure out ways to work within tighter budgets to remain with broadcast.
“Broadcast is still the 500-pound gorilla,” he said.

3 Comments

  1. Was Warner selling Lopez’s talk show on a cash/barter deal for late fringe? (if this was the case…) That’s practically unheard of. Almost every late night syndicated show I can remember was sold on a barter-only basis, including “Aresnio Hall” and “Thicke of the Night”. No wonder stations turned it down. But then again, I guess with current economic conditions, even an all-barter deal wouldn’t be feasible.

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