Big New Syndicated Shows May Not Be Essential For Station Groups

Fox Television Stations believes it might need a new model for local -- and perhaps syndicated -- programming. A couple of new shows are in the works for the station group: Monday-Friday daytime strips “Hollywood Today Live” and “The Daily Help Line,” and a weekly prime-time/late-night show, “Laughs.” But you might not want to call them “tests.”

“Testing” shows on a few stations before rolling them out nationwide is a strategy that’s been used for some time in syndication. But Frank Cicha, senior vp of programming of Fox Television Stations, says not to worry if these shows don’t get sold to the rest of the country -- Fox will still make money, and that’s a good deal for Fox stations.

“This is where syndication is going,” Cicha told TVnewscheck.  “All the big-budget projects are failing and TV station groups are getting bigger. Going forward, syndication will be less about clearing a show in 90% of the country.”

In order to sell national ad time, syndicated programs have typically needed to get enough stations on board to reach more than 75% of U.S. TV homes.

Also, over the last dozen years of so, any sizable local TV production -- outside of news content -- has aspired for a bigger stage and more revenue.

Surely, if stations can come up with their own stuff, that’s a bonus. The benefits: control of production content suited for those markets and time periods, as well as keeping all the advertising inventory in a show.

You wonder if the digital TV-video world -- those somewhat lower-cost videos that can attract modest but successful viewership -- is pushing this agenda. A move to smaller syndication models may be helped along by massive TV-video fragmentation, and, at the same time, by much cheaper programming/production costs.  

And if a small station group doesn’t have to shell out for high-priced talent, so much the better.

Even then, some high-profile talent could come cheaper: Think about all the Hollywood talent experimenting in the digital space for what can only be assumed are modest paydays.

Where does this leave syndication? Right now there is still much opportunity. But the days of high-rated original syndicated shows seem to be over.

Two big TV names -- Katie Couric and Arsenio Hall -- couldn’t make a go of it recently. Even big show brands which started at broadcast networks -- like Disney-ABC’s “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” -- aren’t rocketing stars.

Different concepts? Beyond talk, court, games and magazine formats, there isn’t much left to consider. Launching original first-run sitcoms or dramas into national syndication is -- for the most part -- a difficult proposition for producers.

So back to what made syndication successful, creatively and financially: those easily digestible formats, sans big-brand personalities. After all, Oprah has moved on. Perhaps syndication viewers should as well.

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1 comment about "Big New Syndicated Shows May Not Be Essential For Station Groups ".
  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc , July 3, 2014 at 2:07 p.m.
    As Wayne noted, this model was used with great success in the past----for example by the Group W stations back in the 1960s when they developed "The Mike Douglas Show" and, later "the Merv Griffin Show". Production costs were so low that the Douglas entry was profitable even if it ran only on the Group W outlets. Its timing was perfect, however, as many other stations took it as a replacement for their "Early Show" movie blocks when the studios started licensing their best films directly to the networks for prime time exposure. As before,the problem for the station-originated programs is keeping costs so low that you can be viable in your home markets, without attaining national coverage. That tends to limit the stations to talk and magazine formats and, perhaps, modestly priced "reality" shows-----all of which are a glut on TV screens these days. Come up with a truly unusual host or approach and you may go national; if not, you satisfy the needs of your own stations but that's about all.