Syndication Moves Online, and Back to Screen

Top Producers Take Advantage of Web to Build Brands

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Next week's annual National Association of Television Program Executives Conference in Las Vegas will reflect a syndicated marketplace that is feeling pretty good about its prospects.
CBS's 'Two and a Half Men' ranks as Nielsen's fourth-most-watched syndicated show in its first year in syndication.
CBS's 'Two and a Half Men' ranks as Nielsen's fourth-most-watched syndicated show in its first year in syndication. Credit: CBS

Buyers estimate syndicated TV finished the 2007 upfront with a 3% increase from 2006's totals to $2.06 billion. Tightened ad inventory from a robust upfront coupled with the shifts in TV spending brought on by the writers strike could make for some pretty premiums on those cost-per-thousand-viewers metrics.

Jim Packer, co-president of MGM Studios' Worldwide Television, said the writers strike is "starting to benefit us in the scatter market as advertisers see they can't get their guarantees met. But I'm sure syndication as a whole will benefit."

Increased offerings
Increased offerings from cable this fall also will keep the NATPE marketplace competitive and diversified. Among the cablers joining the syndicated lineup in 2008 are Discovery's "Deadliest Catch," TLC's "American Chopper," the Weather Channel's "Storm Stories" and Comedy Central's "Chappelle's Show" and "Reno 911." In turn, some cable networks have seen significant ratings spikes from their own recent syndicated acquisitions, which include "The Office" on TBS and "Will & Grace" on Lifetime.

As a result, ratings in the key game-show and sitcom categories on broadcast remain strong, with "Two and a Half Men" already ranked as Nielsen's fourth-most-watched syndicated show in its first year in syndication. The Warner Bros.-produced sitcom also became the first syndicated show local TV stations could stream and sell ads for on their websites. Bill Carroll, VP-programming for Katz Television Group, said the early results for "Two and a Half Men" online remain inconclusive, since the 6.5 million viewers who regularly tune in to "Men" in syndication have yet to make a significant impact on the 11.5 million people who watch original episodes on CBS on Mondays.

The real advantage for the local stations is using online incentives to lure viewers to the web and generate higher impressions across both screens. "Stations are putting a greater emphasis on this as not only complementary but ancillary to their sales efforts," Mr. Carroll said. "Everyone realizes that the internet and probably mobile are both going to be important components in the overall delivery to the local market viewer."

'American Gladiators'
The web is also where some studios are turning now to build buzz for their own hopeful syndication hits. MGM, for example, will launch a dedicated site for "American Gladiators" this week to capitalize on nostalgia for its original 1990s body-slamathon, hoping to build buzz for a 2009 distribution deal for the updated version now airing on NBC. Mr. Packer said he knew buying the domain americangladiators.com had market potential when isolated 15-year-old clips of the gladiator Malibu started racking up nearly 800,000 views on YouTube.

The show's surprising comeback online, coupled with its attractiveness to advertisers, makes Mr. Packer optimistic for a "Gladiators" revival. "Back when the show was originally in syndication, a lot of the fans were in their teens. Now those men and women are squarely in the 18-to-49 demo," he said.

Other new shows looking to make a splash at NATPE this year include "The Bonnie Hunt Show," a Warner Bros.-produced talk show for the former "Life With Bonnie" star already cleared in 85% of the syndicated markets; a TV version of the board game Trivial Pursuit; and a syndicated version of NBC's "Deal or No Deal," complete with host Howie Mandel.

Entertainment-news category
And don't count out the increasingly crowded entertainment-news category. Reigning champ "Entertainment Tonight" is still the only program that makes regular appearances in the Nielsen top 20, but NBC Universal's "Access Hollywood" and Warner Bros.' "Extra" and "TMZ" remain in a constant ratings lock on TV and even more cutthroat online. Mr. Carroll points to the splashy 2007 debut of "TMZ" as a sign of future syndication hits to come.

"It started out as part of a TV show, then became a website, then came back as a TV show," he said. "It really took advantage of the sensibilities and the following that existed on the internet and has been able to translate that into viewership."
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