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'Good Wife' Joins Nouveau RicheBy Marrying Broadcast,Cable and SVOD

In a syndication first, subscription video-ondemand (SVOD) services drove CBS’ new $2 million-per-episode deal for The Good Wife, with more traditional cable and broadcast outlets preferring to pay less and wait longer to debut the network drama.

“Timing is everything,” says Scott Koondel, CBS Corp. chief content licensing officer. “This puts The Good Wife in an exclusive club with shows such as The Mentalist, Hawaii Five-0 and NCIS: LA. It just got there differently.”

SVOD Services Change The Syndie Off-Network Game

Without SVOD services in the mix, CBS would not have been able to achieve near the pricing that it could get once players such as Amazon, Hulu and Netflix came to the table. Not long ago, a family-oriented drama such as The Good Wife, even though it’s also a legal procedural, had little value in off-network syndication. It would have sold only in all-barter weekend deals to broadcast TV stations and gone to a cable network for less than $500,000 an episode, and that’s estimating high.

The Good Wife
deal is an example of the important role that SVOD players now play in TV economics, as B&C reported in its Jan. 28 cover story, “NATPE 2013: Are Happy Days Here Again?”

At around $2 million per episode, The Good Wife joins such shows as Warner Bros.’ The Mentalist, which went to TNT for an estimated $2 million-plus per episode, and CBS’ NCIS: Los Angeles, which sold to USA Network for a similar price in late 2009 for a fall 2011 debut. In April 2011, CBS sold Hawaii Five-0 to TNT to premiere in fall 2014.

A drama like The Good Wife is perfect for SVOD services and their binge viewers. SVOD services are ramping up their libraries in a bid to win subscribers’ loyalty, and distributors are happy to provide them their product— at the right price.

In the case of The Good Wife, a premium was placed on exclusivity, with Amazon paying extra to secure the show’s first six-month window. Amazon especially wanted the show because it had seen that its customers frequently purchased its DVDs or episodes via Amazon’s electronic sell-through business. That sort of data, much like network TV ratings, is invaluable and serves to pre-convince buyers of a TV show’s value.

The first three seasons of The Good Wife premiered on Amazon Prime Instant Video on March 14 and will remain exclusive to Amazon until September, when Hulu Plus will start airing the show. According to sources, Netflix was in the mix but wanted the show exclusively. CBS ultimately decided that wasn’t the best play, but it expects Netflix ultimately to pick up the show, sources say. At presstime, executives at Amazon and Netflix had not returned calls for comment.

On-Demand TV Drives Viewers To Original Episodes

Besides the found money that SVOD services represent, they also provide an invaluable marketing service that networks cannot give themselves: They allow viewers to catch up quickly on a show, driving viewers back to the originating network.

That has been proven out in the success of such shows as AMC’s The Walking Dead, now the most popular series on television among adults 18-49, averaging 7.7 million viewers in that demographic per episode; and PBS’ Downton Abbey, whose third-season finale attracted 8.2 million viewers. Both shows air past seasons on Netflix, although Downton will head exclusively to Amazon at the end of this year.

“We did a lot of research on shows that air on SVOD platforms,” Koondel says. “We tracked what happened when it went on to SVOD, what happened to its network ratings. We have the luxury of looking at a lot of research when we put these deals together.”

Meanwhile, basic cable doesn’t get a crack at The Good Wife until next January, when Hallmark Channel will start airing the show with no scheduling restrictions. Hallmark, which bought the drama as part of its original programming strategy, acquired exclusive basic cable rights for the show. Hallmark will launch its first original series on June 1 with Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove, starring Andie McDowell. The network will announce several more original series at its upfronts this week.

Broadcast television, around which syndication once revolved, will be the last guest to this party in September 2014, when The Good Wife comes to stations on weekends in all-barter deals. Weekend hours are typically sold to broadcast stations for barter-only. In fall 2014, The Good Wife will replace either CSI: Miami or Criminal Minds—currently the third- and fourth-ranked weekend hours in broadcast syndication—in TV stations’ weekend rotations.

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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.