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Lowered expectations for Friends

For several months, Warner Bros. has been seeking Seinfeld-sized license fees for Friends' second cycle. By last week, though, the distributor had sold the second off-net syndication cycle to the majority of the Tribune stations, reportedly for less than what it sought and less than what Tribune had paid for the show's first cycle.

Warner Bros. did have ammunition to work with in its negotiations. Friends
consistently ranks No. 1 among off-net sitcoms. And, since there are few A-level comedies in the syndication pipeline, retaining Friends
had to be appealing to stations.

However, "if [Tribune stations] were going to pay what they paid last time, this would have been done a long time ago," says a source, referring to the fact that Warner Bros. has been pitching Friends
since March.

Apparently, Warner Bros. had been aiming for $300,000-plus in per-week license fees for top markets New York and Los Angeles—on par with the $600 million (license fees plus barter revenue) of Seinfeld's second cycle.

But, several weeks ago, Hearst-Argyle's KQCA-TV Stockton, Calif., apparently paid 15% to 20% less for Friends
than for its initial cycle. And, in May, Fox affiliate XETV-TV Tijuana, Mexico, outbid Tribune-owned KSWB-TV San Diego, reportedly paying $25,000 a week in license fees, about half what the studio sought.

The pricing was likely affected by today's economic climate and worries that Friends'
added TBS run, premiering Oct. 1, will devalue the property by the time of the show's second off-net cycle.

In the latest Tribune deal, stations that currently air Friends, including KSWB-TV and KQCA-TV, were able to keep their double runs through next season. The double-run option has reportedly been bundled into the second-cycle deal. The next cycle could be delayed until 2005 if Friends
extends its network run past this season.