Aaron Meyerson, CBS Television Distribution’s new president of programming and development, is ready to take CTD to syndication’s next generation. That includes developing economically nimble shows that can be sold to TV stations and/or cable networks, and marking CTD’s expansion into the business of developing originals for cable.
“The company wanted to look outside of the syndication world, and I have a lot of experience doing all kinds of unscripted and scripted programming, “says Meyerson.
“Syndication today means anywhere you can get a show on the air that you think could work,” says John Nogawski, president of CTD. “It really always has been that way. But the economics have always caused us to focus on TV stations because the economics are different for cable than they are for over-the-air. There’s more a merging of that line than there used to be.”
Meyerson—who has been an executive at MTV, Oxygen and Fox Television Studios—was hired earlier this month to fill the post previously occupied by Terry Wood. Immediately prior to his joining CTD, Meyerson was a principal at digital media start-up Coincident TV, developing shows to air across a variety of platforms.
“What excites me about Aaron is that he has a whole different point of view and a lot more experience than the general programming executive who has worked in syndication throughout his entire career,” says Nogawski.
That positions Meyerson to take CTD in a new direction, broadening its purview from developing programs for TV stations to a variety of platforms, including cable, Web and mobile.
“I don’t think there’s a big difference between syndication and cable—it’s all about storytelling and about getting in business with the best talent and the best ideas,” says Meyerson, who has developed and produced such shows as Tori and Dean, The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency and Mo’nique’s Fat Chance for Oxygen and Paris Hilton: My New BFF, A Double Shot at Love and Bully Beatdown for MTV. “Syndication has been a little sleepy lately in terms of new ideas.
“We are going to develop for both broadcast and cable,” Meyerson adds, “and in some cases, do a dual window when we can. That’s not cannibalizing yourself, it’s expanding the pie. We want as many people sampling our content as possible.”
CBS Television Distribution remains the leader in producing and distributing syndicated programs, even though its first-run ratings—like all syndicators’—have declined across the board. CTD distributes the leaders in almost every genre, with Entertainment Tonight and Inside Edition headlining the magazines, Judge Judy and Judge Joe Brown reigning over court, Oprah and Dr. Phil topping talk, and Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! holding the high scores among games.
But CTD faces the same challenge as every syndicator: how to produce compelling first-run programming that attracts audiences and remains economically feasible. Dr. Phil was a huge hit when it launched in fall 2002, but it would be tough to launch such an expensive show in today’s tough economic climate. Still, stations need firstrun programs more than ever if they are to fend off cable and stay unique in their local markets. That provides syndicators with an important opportunity if they can unlock the economics.
“Our priority remains syndication,” says Meyerson. “We have a lot of competitive strengths in that area, and we are the market leader. We have the biggest television library in the world, and there are formats and titles there that can be used to reinvigorate the marketplace.”
For Meyerson, successful development comes when producers focus first on the storytelling. “From there, I believe in making sure there is something strong that’s driving the show, whether that’s a creator, producer or a piece of talent. It can also be a strong format. There has to be some central driver that makes a show stand out from the crowd.”
The ideas will be flying under Meyerson’s watch, he says.
“We are going to be generating a lot more activity here, whether that’s with talent, producers who have abandoned daytime for cable, cable genres, our library or international format scouting. I’m encouraging our development team to look to all of those areas for new ideas,” he says.
Nogawski seconds that: “During the holidays, I was getting pages of ideas from [Meyerson] of things he wanted to explore—things I’ve never had proposed to me. I’m excited about his way of thinking; he’s a Stanford graduate with an incredible business mind. This will be great for us and open up a lot of opportunities.”
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