Repeats of off-network programming -- or, more recently, off-cable-network shows -- used to be a sure thing for TV producers financially. But that may be changing.
One example: Broadcasting & Cable says the HBO shows "Entourage" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" aren't cutting it in syndication and have been pulled -- a rare business flub. Both have been playing in late-night time periods, and heading towards even later night time periods. Ratings? A Nielsen 0.6 -- that's household rating, mind you! Around 600,000 homes. (Yikes!)
So a three-year deal with stations for those shows has been cut short -- way short. The inference here is that all barter syndication shows already have a tough time, and that late-night time periods make matters worst. But ratings hit so low for these two shows that the national advertising barter time didn't cover the distribution and technical costs.
Getting to 70, 80 or 100 episodes used to all but guarantee a big payday in syndication or in cable reruns. No longer. More than ever, shows need to find a back-end, a front-end, or some sort of end.
No doubt "Entourage" and "Curb" sold some DVDs. But now perhaps TV money is spread amongst too many TV platforms. Not everything wins.
The "Entourage" and "Curb" moves might still be an aberration. TV stations and cable networks are in continuous need of content -- and though the push is always to upgrade quality with first-run/original programming -- both broadcast stations and cable nets still need to rely on previously aired programming to fill in the gaps. Indeed, perhaps the broadcast networks' own increase in airing reruns is also having an effect on the syndication market.
Syndication is still a decent deal for advertisers -- something on the order of 15% to 20% CPM savings versus broadcast networks for specific demographics. Syndication also has a great story to tell when it comes to time shifting since 85% of its shows are seen live.
But a bigger question is looming: when does the real value of TV repeats shift to digital platforms -- and what will that mean for the syndication business? Something's gotta give.