NATPE 2015: Syndicators Search for Laughs

Miami Beach, Fla. — In an era where it’s increasingly hard to launch new shows and keep them on the air, syndicators are looking for funny, they said Tuesday during a panel at NATPE.

“We are looking in the comedy format space because of the dearth of sitcoms that stations can buy,” said Valerie Schaer, executive VP, creative affairs for NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution. “We’re looking to develop inexpensive, irreverent formats that are easy to produce. We are experimenting with that right now.”

“There’s more room in the market for comedic news that’s topical and has point of view,” said Hilary Estey McLoughlin, president of creative affairs for CBS Television Distribution, pointing toward shows such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. “We are also looking for more comedic hybrid shows – games, formats, and even personalities that we’re not yet aware of.”

That’s part of the reason Debmar-Mercury is in the market with Tosh.0 off of Comedy Central, and also why the Fox Television Stations have extended the run of weekly test Laughs through the middle of May and perhaps beyond.

Those shows also have the benefit of being inexpensive, which is becoming a requirement in the challenged syndication space.

“Today’s economics are different, so the way we set up our deals has to be different,” said Stephen Brown, executive VP of programming and development for the Fox Television Stations. “I create programming specifically to launch on the Fox TV stations. If it’s successful, we’ll make it broader or not. We could just air these shows on our stations alone, if we can find the right price point. That’s the crux of the problem: What can we produce that’s compelling for the audience that’s still going to make some money?”

Considering all of syndication’s challenges, does it have a future? asked Bruce David Klein, moderator and president and executive producer of Atlas Media Corp.

“There will always be syndication as long as there are stations who need product,” said Schaer.

Paige Albiniak

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.