Syndication Execs Debate Future Of Turbulent First-Run Market
A top syndication executive said first-run hits can give a station "more leverage" in retransmission consent negotiations, since the content is exclusive in a particular market.
"You need to have your own identity and your own place in the market," said Mort Marcus, co-president of Debmar-Mercury, on a panel at the NATPE convention.
So the rush for retrans cash could filter down to help syndicators such as Marcus. On the flip side, stations are looking to trim costs and offer more local news in place of syndicated content.
Much of that switch is planned for the time periods to be vacated once Oprah leaves daytime, which highlights -- along with Regis Philbin's impending departure -- the difficulty in finding that next wave of first-run successes.
While those two personalities will leave a gap, syndication executives have less fear about the impact of Mary Hart about to leave "Entertainment Tonight." Nancy O'Dell will replace her. And John Nogawski, who heads "ET" distributor CBS Television Distribution, said the show "will go on for another 25 years."
Marcus said that while Hart is a legend, "ET" is less dependent on her wattage than some other shows may be on their headlining hosts.
"I think the content actually overweighs the host in that particular case ... Regis is a whole different thing," he said.
With some turmoil in first-run syndication, Sean Compton, who heads programming at the Tribune station group, argued that the industry should show patience while seeding new talent.
Tribune is content with shows starring Maury Povich, Jerry Springer and Steve Wilkos, but that hasn't always been the case. "We can't expect viewers overnight to find and fall in love with personalities, especially someone who's an unknown," he said on the panel.
Nogawski's CBS group has dating show "Excused" coming in the fall, and he said stations are paying cash plus barter. The cash is "not flowing out of the pocket," but coming nonetheless, he said.
The show looks to be inexpensive to produce, which could help CBS and stations.