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Media Outlook 2011: TV Syndication

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National TV syndication has pretty much mirrored the ad revenue ups and downs of broadcast network television, taking a hit in 2009 but having a better upfront selling season in 2010.

Still many observers in the financial and media buying communities see syndication continuing to struggle a bit more than broadcast network TV in its attempt to rebound.

That marketplace factor slightly ironic due to the fact that a majority of the highest-rated programs in syndication are off-network series, both sitcoms and dramas. Still, they air in non-prime-time periods on stations across the country, so that detracts from their ratings potential and ability to bring in top dollar for commercial inventory.

Daytime is still the key daypart for syndication where original syndicated shows like The Oprah Winfrey Show, Dr. Phil, Judge Judy, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Live with Regis and Kelly, The Dr. Oz Show and The Doctors, all do well in bringing in ad revenue for their respective studios. If there’s one universal complaint about TV syndication from advertisers and their media agencies, it’s that there is not enough original programming.

However,  a real sea change  is going to happen in syndication September 2011 when Oprah goes off the air.

“Oprah leaving is a milestone event in syndication but it provides an opportunity for shows like Ellen and Dr. Oz to grow their audience and revenue bases,” said one syndicated sales executive who did not want to speak for attribution.

Paul Franklin, evp, sales, for Twentieth Television, calls Oprah’s departure the “biggest change in 25 years and one that will create an entire new dynamic for broadcast syndication.” Franklin says not only will there be a lot of shuffling around of daytime programming, but Oprah’s departure will create opportunity for other studios to come up with new shows to fill the void.
“It will be an exciting time for our business,” Franklin says.

But the studios that produce syndicated programming are guarded in what they might be considering to fill the Oprah void, with no one willing to discuss the possibilities. Although it has been reported that Rosy O’Donnell will be returning to television with a syndicated, issue- oriented talk show in the fall of 2011, although no details have been announced.

There have also been rumors that ABC’s daytime talk show, The View, might be moving into syndication in the fall of 2011 to fill the void of departing Oprah. Whatever else is in the pipeline though will clearly have an impact on the 2011 upfront for syndication and could possibly define what type of season 2011-2012 will be.

Meanwhile much like in broadcast, after a solid upfront, syndication scatter pricing is “red hot,” according to Matthew Lieberman, director, PricewaterhouseCoopers, who said some shows are getting their highest ad rates in history.

Game shows Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy are the highest and second highest rated shows in syndication, but surprisingly close is Judge Judy in daytime, who actually drew a higher household rating for the most recently completed season than Oprah.

Two and a Half Men (CBS) is the highest rated off-network sitcom by far, followed by Family Guy (Fox) and The Office (NBC). Two sitcoms that ended their broadcast network runs a while ago, Seinfeld (NBC) and Everybody Loves Raymond (CBS) also produce decent ratings in syndication.

And there are a slew of off-network dramas led by CSI: New York and CSI: Miami (CBS), Law & Order: SVU (NBC), and Bones (Fox), that perform solidly in syndication. And they will be joined this season by hit network sitcom How I Met Your Mother (CBS), cable comedies Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO) and Entourage (HBO), and broadcast dramas Criminal Minds (CBS) and Brothers and Sisters ABC), among others.

The trend of off-network shows moving into national syndication will continue in the fall of 2011 when sitcoms 30 Rock (NBC) and The Big Bang Theory (CBS), produced by NBC Universal and Warner Bros., respectively, will move into syndication, having already done deals with Fox Television Stations.

So it seems has long as the broadcast and cable networks keep developing popular programming, syndication will do fine. And Twentieth Television’s Franklin is already excited about two 20th Century Fox Television broadcast network hits, Modern Family (ABC) and Glee (Fox) that will be moving into syndication down the road. The studio has already done deals with USA Network (Modern Family) and Oxygen (Glee) to begin televising the shows in syndication in 2013 with national syndication to follow.

Another positive development for TV syndication is that the broadcast networks are now beginning to negotiate the collection of retransmission fees from cable operators.

One syndication sales executive, who did not want to speak for attribution, said, “The networks know that to keep this dual revenue stream going, they will have to keep enriching the pipeline with solid first-run programming that will eventually move into syndication.”