Just as the pandemic has accelerated so many trends, so has it also accelerated trends in syndication.
With some big studios such as WarnerMedia and Disney reducing their syndication sales forces and several syndicated shows potentially nearing the ends of their runs, the remaining syndie suppliers are looking at the changes as opportunities. While syndicated shows continue to be difficult to launch and don’t tend to draw huge ratings in the fragmented TV landscape, TV stations aren’t going anywhere and still need shows to fill key time periods, especially those leading into news. Done right, there is still money to be made in broadcast syndication, although the economic model needs to be much leaner today than it once was.
“We’re leaning in when a lot of companies are leaning out,” SPT president, first-run television John Weiser said. “From the stations’ point of view, they want shows that build viewership, attract top advertisers and have an affordable business model that’s renewable. When the ratings don’t line up with a show’s cost, that’s not sustainable.”
For Sony, what that means is taking advantage of existing infrastructure when producing shows; using existing series to develop, spin off and promote new ones; giving new shows plenty of time to incubate in the marketplace before launch; and monetizing the shows across as many platforms as possible.
“The strategy we’ve evolved is to leverage existing brands and infrastructures to develop new shows and then to test them with viewers and advertisers before we roll them out nationally,” Weiser said.
Sony has three new shows in the mix for the next couple of years: The Good Dish, a Dr. Oz spinoff starring Daphne Oz, Gail Simmons and Jamika Pessoa; Common Knowledge, an off-Game Show Network show that the company tested on Fox-owned stations last summer; and People (the TV Show!), an entertainment magazine strip that was developed by Meredith and is currently airing on Meredith-owned stations in 12 markets.
All three shows check Sony’s strategy boxes: they leverage existing brands and infrastructure and they are pre-tested with viewers and advertisers.
Early Taste of ‘Dish’
The Good Dish — which went out into the marketplace last fall but ran into clearance roadblocks when NBCUniversal’s The Kelly Clarkson Show and Disney-ABC’s Tamron Hall were renewed and CBS decided to launch Drew Barrymore — has continued to air as a Wednesday segment on Dr. Oz, the host of which is Daphne Oz’s father, Dr. Mehmet Oz. The segments drive the show’s ratings up 15% on Wednesdays, according to Weiser, who also said Google searches around Daphne Oz increase by 87% every Wednesday.
“When COVID hit, the interest in cooking at home went through the roof,” Weiser said, and that’s a dynamic that remains in play as the pandemic wears on.
Sony’s research indicates that there is an audience for cooking shows in daytime and with ABC’s The Chew, on which Daphne Oz starred, going off the air in 2018, there is currently only one food-oriented show on daytime broadcast TV: CBS Television Distribution’s Rachael Ray, which just entered season 15. As a result, Sony sees room in the marketplace for another food-focused program.
Sony also has tested segments with guest hosts, such as Tia Mowry, Jamie Oliver and Alec and Hilaria Baldwin. “We think it broadens the reach of the show and keeps it interesting with fun surprises,” Weiser said.
Last summer, Sony conducted its first test: airing game show Common Knowledge, hosted by Joey Fatone, over four weeks on Fox-owned stations in New York; Los Angeles; Chicago; Phoenix; Tampa, Florida; Minneapolis; Orlando, Florida; and Austin, Texas. On those stations, it averaged a 0.3 rating/1 share across eight markets, holding steady compared to its lead-ins and its year-ago time period average. The show is Sony-owned Game Show Network’s top-performing show to ever air at 5:30 p.m., and there will be 260 episodes available on an all-barter basis at launch.
According to Weiser, Common Knowledge performed 56% better when paired with another game show, such as Fox’s own 25 Words or Less, starring Meredith Vieira, or Debmar-Mercury’s Family Feud, starring Steve Harvey, both of which air on Fox stations in many markets. This fall, Fox is launching a reboot of This Is Your Life, starring Jay Leno, that could provide another opportunity for stations to create a game block.
“We have seen from our own experience that when games are paired with games they create an environment that viewers like,” Weiser said.
Finally, People (the TV Show!) was developed and produced by Meredith, which gained the rights to People after it acquired owner Time Inc. for $2.8 billion in January 2018. The entertainment magazine show, executive produced by former Access Hollywood executive producer Rob Silverstein, debuted this fall. Sony is selling the show into national syndication and doesn’t expect it to launch with a full national clearance until fall 2022.
Sony is eyeing access time slots for People, which for the past two weeks has averaged a 1.1 rating/3 share weighted metered market average for all telecasts across 12 markets, down 31% from its lead-in of 1.6/4 and down 27% from its year-ago time period of 1.5/4.
“With People, we are sticking with the same strategy we believe in,” Weiser said. “People is leveraging a brand with more than 100 million views per month. It’s a huge multiplatform ecosystem.”
Other shows coming to market for fall 2021 are Debmar-Mercury’s Nick Cannon, the debut of which was shelved earlier this year; potentially a new talker from CTD starring Niecy Nash and a syndicated strip of NBCU’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Meanwhile, Kelly Clarkson, Tamron Hall and Drew Barrymore are all expected to return.
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Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.