Syndication Charts New Waters In Web World

With just a handful of words this week, Turner chief Phil Kent noted the choppy waters syndication industry may struggle to navigate. Studio arms handling off-networks sales for top shows may have to plead with corporate cousins to pull in the reins when it comes to digital streaming.

Kent said when a show is too widely distributed on the Web -- or made available on Netflix -- before syndication availability, it loses value. Turner, in turn, is inclined to pay less for rights, which could mean a huge loss for a distributor.

Kent, an executive who speaks rarely (in public) but carries a big stick, was referring to cable networks. Syndicators, of course, also sell to local stations, which may now appropriate Kent's threat to at least use as a bargaining chip.

Turner dropped out of the bidding to bring ABC's "Modern Family" to TBS, believing it was too widely distributed online. With and Hulu offering full episodes en masse and gratis, who's to say millions wouldn't have viewed most of the show's menu by 2013, when it would have come to Turner?



USA ultimately trumped Turner to snag the cable rights to the show. On the station side, Fox has bought it in 10 markets and sales are ongoing, and the distributor, Twentieth Television, is running ads plugging its worth.

In the future, will ads aimed at station buyers read: "Great show! Limited online distribution!?

This week, Kent also said syndication value could be hurt if a show is made available via Netflix. "We've been telling our suppliers, the various studios we buy from, that in the future this is going to have a significant impact on what we'll be willing to pay for programming or even bid at all," he said.

Kent's concerns have syndicators ruminating, since TNT and TBS are such critical and wealthy buyers. Some internal corporate heat could ensue, if it hasn't already. Take the "Modern Family" example. Within News Corp., its TV studio produces the show and presumably cut the deal with ABC, allowing the online rights. Sibling Twentieth is tasked with syndie sales.

If Turner's Kent has indeed injected a new dynamic in syndie negotiations, would the syndication arm look to persuade the studio to make deals with limits on possible Web-spread?

"Modern Family" involves an outside party in ABC. News Corp.'s has another show with massive syndication revenues coming in "Glee" that involves a closed loop. The conglomerate controls all parts of its ecosystem: producing, broadcast (Fox), deciding where it will land on the Web and then syndicating it.

The online decisions will be in-house. But those may not be made as one happy family. Within large media companies, various units have been known to tangle with one another to protect their share. (The in-fighting at the aborted Viacom-CBS combination is a prominent example.)

With "Glee," News Corp. cut an innovative deal as cable syndication is heading to Oxygen in 2013 and the cable net will also air a related reality series this year. Station sales have not yet begun.

To be sure, syndication sales of shows such as CBS'"Big Bang Theory" (to TBS) and "NCIS: LA" (to USA) seem to be strong and so far unhurt by the online video boom, but that platform is growing.

Ironically, while Kent makes some threats, Turner continues to be a happy distributor of its shows it carries on the Web for free. Multiple episodes of "Family Guy," "American Dad" and "The Closer" are on Turner sites.

Down the road if it lasts about three more seasons, AMC's "Mad Men" is likely to fetch a pretty penny on the syndication market for Lions Gate. While episodes are available hours after a broadcast on Amazon's VOD service for $1.99, there ARE NO free (legal) online options.

That sets TNT up to be an eager buyer, no?

1 comment about "Syndication Charts New Waters In Web World".
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  1. Chase Norlin from AlphaBird, January 10, 2011 at 8:43 p.m.

    Great article David. I can understand the reaction TV syndicators are having to the perceived devaluation of their show asset by having it distributed on the web first. I agree with that assumption to some extent, though it was overlooked how the web serves as a great promotional tool for TV material (eg. trailers, sneak peeks, etc).

    What's true no matter the distribution outlet is that ultimately content is king. If a TV syndicator has a show with built-in asset value (history of previous season success, known stars, known producers, etc) then I agree that price protection of that asset should be a primary goal.

    A key piece missing from this article is that online video syndication has a new model: the syndication of shows (web series and branded entertainment) made exclusively for the web. This is when things get pretty exciting as brand marketers and studios now have a new low-cost distribution outlet to test performance before bringing to a mass audience via TV, Xbox game, Motion Picture, etc. Studios and TV/film producers have never been in a better position to distribute their material and acquire a growing, loyal audience at significantly reduced costs and speed to market.

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