Magna: Syndication Can Hurt Network Ratings

A show's syndication run continues to have a negative impact on the ratings of its network run--which could become a bigger problem in future years.

On the eve of the National Association of Television Program Executives meeting in Las Vegas (where many syndication programs are sold to stations), Magna Global USA issued a report yesterday that basically reasserts, more than ever, the gloomy news for network programmers. Once a show gets into syndication, there's a good likelihood the show's ratings will drop the next year during its network run.

Just over three-quarters of all shows that went into syndication since 1987--51 shows--witnessed immediate ratings declines on their network runs the next season.

Is this just due to normal network erosion--or is something else at work here?

Steve Sternberg--evp and director of audience analysis, who wrote the report--said that more episodes and more air-time of any particular show will generally have a negative effect on ratings. The situation is likely to get worse--given the hundreds of channels that are available to consumers.



Primarily, Magna broke down shows into two groups--one in which shows continued to see declining network ratings after the first year of syndication, and another in which shows started to decline on network after their initial syndication runs. Shows that continued to decline ranged from "The Cosby Show" in 1988 to "The Simpsons" in 1994, and from "Home Improvement" in 1995 to "Frasier' in 1997. Shows that immediately took a turn for the worst included: "Cheers" in 1987, "Married with Children" in 1991, and "Friends" in 1998.

Syndication gave some shows a boost to their network airings. Magna noted that these shows had low network ratings to begin with. This list included: "Full House," "Beverly Hills 90210," "Seinfeld," "The X-Files," "7th Heaven," and "Everybody Loves Raymond."

More recently, it's been even harder to maintain growing network ratings after a syndication run. Magna looked at syndication from 1998 to 2004 and found out that of 29 shows, one--"King of the Hill"--posted higher network ratings after the first year of being syndicated. The rest of the list saw 18 shows with lower network ratings the year after being syndicated. The other ten were cancelled.

Is there anything to help stop the problem? Not much. But Sternberg says syndicated shows that mostly avoid the prime access early evening time slots--and, thus, away from network prime-time periods--can limit problems. Those shows that minimize the damage with late-night airings included "Seinfeld," "Frasier," and "CSI."

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