LIN TV CEO Vincent Sadusky joined the chorus of station-group executives suggesting that prices for syndicated programming may have reached an apex. Instead, replacing it with local programming can pull in higher ratings and boost the bottom line with the lower costs.
As for off-network sitcoms, Sadusky indicated that syndicators are seeking inflated prices and longer contracts that could outlive a show's popularity. Example: the "Two and a Half Men" sellers asking for seven-year deals.
"We just don't think shows are going to have those kinds of legs," Sadusky said at a recent investor event. "The days of the "Seinfelds" coming off net are really over."
He said LIN will continue to pursue quality off-net programming, but may have more leverage than in past years: "We won't chase it down if terms get out of hand."
Beyond sitcoms, some station-group executives have suggested recently that even "The Oprah Winfrey Show" ending could lead to more local programming and a net positive.
LIN, with 32 stations, has expanded its local offerings, notably with lifestyle-type shows resembling some of the "Today" show's segments. They cost less and offer new ad opportunities.
"Because it's not news, we don't have the same standards that we have in terms of objectivity, so we can have a little bit of fun," Sadusky said. "We can have our hosts drink the Dunkin' Donuts' coffee mug ... we can do some product integration. We can have a chef on from a local restaurant and get outside the 30- and 60-second spots. ... Advertisers love new ideas being brought to the table."
Fox doesn't offer affiliates a morning show, so stations have space to experiment. On LIN's Fox affiliate in Providence, there is "The Rhode Show" ("Rhode" as in Rhode Island) from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. on weekdays, and again from 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.
In the Norfolk, Va. market, there is a "Hamptons Roads Show" in the same morning slot, and a related hour from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on LIN's Mobile, Ala. The Fox outlet has "Studio 10" in the 8 a.m. hour.
Video from the shows and related content can be placed on station Web sites, providing additional offerings cross-platform.
Back on syndication strategy, the stronger local programming gives LIN some heft when negotiating with syndicators, Sadusky said. "It's an opportunity for us to have a bit more leverage and kind of control of our own destiny, a bit more than the historical broadcast model," he said.
Still, he expects the traditional station business model, given the need for syndicated content, to succeed for some time.