Syndicating TV Shows Is Still A TV Model

Despite its size, syndication has been one of the steadiest national TV platforms. That may not be good news for some.

Yes, syndication has been hit -- like everything else -- with ratings erosion. Not even those prized off-network sitcoms are doing the same numbers as a few years ago. Vaunted multi-decade-long shows like "Wheel of Fortune," "Oprah Winfrey" and "Entertainment Tonight" have also recorded lower ratings.

But here's the deal: Unlike "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" or "Joan of Arcadia" or "Rock Star," these shows are still on the air. That's consistency for you. Unfortunately, it's a big yawn as well. That's what this week's National Association of Television Program Executives meeting in Las Vegas has to contend with.

What to do? Not much in this marketplace. Times are tough, with fewer TV producers looking to launch just one more talk show, game show, or magazine show -- especially when TV stations are already having trouble selling the syndication shows they have on now.

You could possibly do another court show, however. They are cheap to produce, and there's no end of local TV direct response advertisers who buy up those shows. Still, it's a somewhat limiting genre -- and, of course, there is not much excitement there. Some people say the same thing when it comes to advertising-supported broadcast and cable networks.

But still, syndication has a future.

For one, broadcast networks continue to tinker with streamlining their time periods. (Jay Leno as a Monday to Friday "strip" on NBC already talks syndication's language.). But the day will come when the big four networks will probably give some actual time periods back to stations -- those they can't make money on, say, a Friday or Saturday night.

Digitally, CBS is already talking the business, "syndicating" its video content to other Internet video destinations. CBS then grabs some advertising time from those sites, scales up those users, and sells it to advertisers via the CBS Audience Network. Other video producers are doing the same.

Financial models are changing all the time -- and when they do, maybe some new types of syndicated programming will result. Individual syndication shows for local multicast networks? Local Internet streaming of syndicated TV programs? First-run syndicated shows for mobile?

Someone is probably working on it. Maybe they are on the floor of NATPE right now



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