Syndication executives are learning to focus on the growing areas of the TV-production business—digital, mobile and international—and stop worrying about domestic syndication.
It's a good thing, because this year's conference is looking like the slowest ever in terms of major launches and new first-run shows. Many programmers from the top 25 station groups, their time periods largely full, aren't looking to acquire new programming.
Stations are instead considering how to offer viewers more local programming and to produce shows that break the daytime mold—all within a cost-effective business model. And many have spent the past couple of years expanding their local-news programming, particularly in the early-morning hours.
“If you can come up with a concept that's locally focused while keeping your production costs under control, that's ultimately a better way to differentiate your product and your station,” says Roger Ogden, president/CEO of Gannett Broadcasting.
At the same time, the major syndicators have backed off developing first-run programs due to a lack of open time periods, high production costs and the difficulty of achieving a worthwhile rating in daytime.
The recent cancellations of NBC Universal's The Megan Mullally Show and Twentieth's Geraldo at Large create a few openings, but there's more than enough product to fill those holes. Many of syndication's top shows—including Wheel of Fortune, The Oprah Winfrey Show and Live With Regis and Kelly—are renewed for years to come, leaving little space for newcomers. And because stations aren't aggressively seeking new programming, low-rated shows like Sony's Greg Behrendt have a shot at renewal.
B&C's annual survey of the Top 25 station groups is based on 2005 revenue data provided by BIA Financial Network. Station totals were compiled by reporters, and coverage numbers are based on FCC calculation, which discounts 50% for UHF channels.
1 Fox Television Stations
2005 revenue: $2.3 billion
Number of stations: 35
Number of markets: 26
Percent of U.S. covered: 38.0%
Markets 1-162, including nine of the top 10, led by WNYW New York. The group has duopolies in nine markets, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. It operates 25 Fox and 10 MyNetworkTV (MNT) stations.
With so many stations and only two hours per night of network-provided programming, the News Corp.-owned Fox TV Stations is one of the few groups actively seeking shows. In recent years, it has shifted from double and triple runs of sitcoms to as much first-run programming as it can get.
Fox also is working hard to build its stations' news brands, a reason it picked up NBC Universal's Access Hollywood in several markets last year. That's also why The Morning Show With Mike and Juliet—Fox's attempt to take on NBC's Today, ABC's Good Morning America and CBS' The Early Show—is jumping off the Fox News Channel to land on Fox O&Os, premiering Jan. 22. News Corp.-owned syndicator Twentieth Television hopes cancellation of The Megan Mullally Show opens a spot for more stations to pick The Morning Show.
Fox also has cleared Judge David Young, which will play in afternoon court blocks and in the mornings on some MNT stations. The group has renewed Warner Bros.' The Tyra Banks Show for two more seasons but dumped its own Geraldo at Large.
Warner Bros. hopes Geraldo's loss is its gain, giving new hope to its TMZ, a TV version of the Website that scooped the world on Mel Gibson's arrest.
Though declining to confirm a TMZ deal, Frank Cicha, senior VP of programming for the group, says any program with a solid Web component is appealing: “If syndicators can create ideas that include our Websites, that's as attractive as it gets.”
2 CBS Television Stations
2005 revenue: $1.853 billion
Number of stations: 39
Number of markets: 26
Percent of U.S. covered: 37.9%
Markets 1-69, including 15 of the top 20. The group owns 21 CBS, 11 CW, and three MNT stations, as well as four independents. It has 12 duopolies: Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Boston, Detroit, Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, Minneapolis, Sacramento, Calif., Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City and Green Bay, Wis. The largest stations are WCBS New York, KCBS Los Angeles and WBBM Chicago.
After years of struggling to keep up with the ABC and NBC stations in the nation's top markets, CBS stations are finally looking strong. The group boasts such top syndicated programs as Dr. Phil, Oprah and Judge Judy (all distributed by CBS TV Distribution, which comprises the former King World and CBS Paramount Domestic Television Distribution). The acquisitions have made a big difference for the CBS group in daytime.
Rookie The Rachael Ray Show, this year's syndication darling, appears on seven CBS stations in the morning. It filled previously low-rated time periods. That show is also meeting the station group's expectations.
While CBS stations have been working to stabilize their daytime schedules, they've also been aggressively expanding their local newscasts, especially on weekends. But CBS stations don't have many places to add new newscasts without knocking out some of their top syndicated shows.
3 NBC Universal (including Telemundo)
2005 revenue: $1.667 billion
Number of stations: 35
Number of markets: 23
Percent of U.S. covered: 31.3%
Markets 1-51. The group owns 10 NBC stations, plus 15 full-power Telemundo stations in markets 1-70, nine low-power stations and one Spanish-language station in Puerto Rico. The group operates six English/Spanish-language duopolies: New York, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, San Francisco and Denver. NBCU also owns a triopoly in Los Angeles: KNBC, Telemundo's KVEA and Spanish-language independent KWHY. In 2006, NBCU sold four stations: WJAR Providence, R.I.; WCMH Columbus, Ohio; WVTM Birmingham, Ala.; and WNCN Raleigh, N.C.
That's why NBC is enthusiastic about iVillage Live, its new interactive daytime show that's a hybrid of talk, entertainment and news, although ratings are low. “This interactivity concept is going to become stronger and stronger over the next two or three years,” Schwaid says.
He expects NBC's 10 stations to pick up the show for fall. Since its Dec. 4 debut, it has averaged a 0.6 rating/2 share, down 40% from its lead-in and 50% from the year-ago 1.2/4 average of the cancelled Starting Over, reruns of which may fill the gap left by Megan on a few NBC stations.
NBC's biggest daytime move come fall may be the long-rumored expansion of the Today show to four hours. Affiliates have not signed off on the plan, but it makes economic sense for the network: The third hour gets higher ratings than anything else on NBC's daytime schedule in all 10 of its O&O markets, and it would be less expensive to produce than a first-run syndicated program.
NBC also is starting to produce local non-news programs, such as The Ten Show at 10 a.m. on WCAU Philadelphia, movie-review program Reel Talk on WNBC New York, and an entertainment magazine on WSCV Miami.
4 Disney/ABC TV Station Group
2005 revenue: $1.159 billion
Number of stations: 10
Number of markets: 10
Percent of U.S. covered: 23.3%
Markets 1-71, including all of the top five; no duopolies. The top stations are WABC New York, KABC Los Angeles and WLS Chicago. Its smallest outlet is WTVG Toledo, Ohio.
ABC's stations are the envy of the industry, with such shows as Oprah, Live With Regis and Kelly, Wheel of Fortune and Inside Edition renewed for years. The addition of Rachael Ray on ABC's powerhouse stations in New York and Philadelphia finally gives those stations a successful program at 10 a.m.
With such blue-ribbon programs in place, the stations have focused on expanding their local-news offerings. Many ABC stations offer more than 40 hours per week, including Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Indeed, local news works so well at ABC stations that the group seems to be able to schedule a newscast at nearly any time of day and make it work.
5 Tribune Broadcasting
2005 revenue: $1.082 billion
Number of stations: 23
Number of markets: 19
Percent of U.S. covered: 27.6%
Markets 1-54, with flagship WGN Chicago, WPIX New York and KTLA Los Angeles, all CW affiliates. WGN also is a superstation, carried to nearly 70 million households. The company runs four duopolies: Seattle-Tacoma, Wash.; Indianapolis-Bloomington, Ind.; Hartford-New Haven, Conn.; and New Orleans. Besides the 14 CW affiliates, the group owns six Fox, two MNT and one ABC affiliate. The company is considering selling its broadcast and newspaper assets.
Embroiled in a highly publicized strategic review of whether to sell its broadcast assets, Tribune executives have bigger things on their minds than what syndicated shows to air. That disinterest by such a large group largely explains why there are so few new program offerings this year.
Tribune last year busted its syndicated budget by buying both Warner Bros.' Two and a Half Men and Twentieth's Family Guy to refresh its access and late-fringe sitcom blocks. The group also rolled out Greg Behrendt, developed by Tribune in tandem with producer/distributor Sony. Behrendt's household ratings have yet to climb to a 1.0, but with relatively inexpensive production costs and limited alternatives, industry observers believe that Tribune and Sony are likely to renew the show. Tribune executives were unavailable for comment.
6 Gannett Co.
2005 revenue: $908.2 million
Number of stations: 23
Number of markets: 19
Percent of U.S. covered: 17.9%
Markets 8-152, led by WUSA Washington, WXIA Atlanta and KUSA Denver. Gannett owns 12 NBC, six CBS, three ABC and one MNT affiliate recently acquired with the purchase of KTVD Denver. It runs four duopolies: Atlanta, Phoenix, Denver and Jacksonville, Fla.
Gannett Broadcasting's success with its local community programs, such as Colorado & Co. on KUSA Denver, combined with solid daytime lineups, limits its first-run syndicated needs.
“There's very little being offered this year and our requirements are minimal at best,” says Roger Ogden, president/CEO of Gannett Broadcasting, who is B&C's Broadcaster of the Year.
Gannett mostly owns Big Three affiliates, offers a heavy schedule of local news on Big Three and duopoly stations, and fills late-morning hours with local talk shows in nine (soon to be 10) markets. The group's afternoons are largely filled by top-notch early-fringe shows, such as Dr. Phil and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
The group's local shows give area businesses an opportunity to purchase time. Ogden says they sell 50% of their time to local businesses and give the rest to non-profit and other altruistic organizations.
“Certain dayparts are simply going to generate a little less revenue than they used to,” says Ogden. “That's why we created Colorado & Co. three years ago. Today, these shows rate better than many of us thought they would.”
7 Hearst-Argyle Television
2005 revenue: $802.2 million
Number of stations: 29
Number of markets: 25
Percent of U.S. covered: 18.1%
Markets 7-124. Largest station is ABC affiliate WCVB Boston. Hearst-Argyle also owns 11 other ABC affiliates, 10 NBC, two CBS, one CW and one MNT affiliate. The company manages three stations under the Hearst umbrella: an ABC affiliate in West Palm Beach, Fla.; a CW in Kansas City, Mo.; and an independent in Tampa, Fla. Including its local market agreements (LMAs), Hearst-Argyle runs four duopolies: Boston, Orlando, Fla,; Kansas City; and Sacramento.
This year may be slow, but VP of Programming Emerson Coleman says that means a busy 2008: “There are fewer choices for 2007, and that signals that the 2008 buying season is going to start very early: as early as this June.”
Like most groups, Hearst-Argyle is preparing for the day when it has to produce more local programs. “We may have to become more active in terms of producing our own shows to ensure we have the right programs that reflect our stations and brands,” Coleman says. “We're not sure we'll have the variety of choices available to us that we've had in the past.”
8 Belo Corp.
2005 revenue: $723.6 million
Number of stations: 21
Number of markets: 15
Percent of U.S. covered: 14%
Markets 6-118. Belo's flagship is WFAA Dallas-Ft. Worth; the group's smallest station is KTVB Boise, Idaho. Belo owns four duopolies: Phoenix, Seattle-Tacoma, Tucson and Spokane. The group comprises four ABC, five CBS, five NBC affiliates, two independents, three CW, one Fox and one MNT station. Belo also manages HIC Broadcasting's KFWD Dallas.
Although Senior VP Rich Kilty says his group is “pretty much all set for the short-term,” he would like to see syndicators get more creative about their offerings—especially in daytime. “Ratings certainly are getting harder to come by in that daypart more than anywhere else,” he says. “Consequently, we are looking at some different business models.”
On WFAA Dallas, KHOU Houston, KENS San Antonio and KASW Phoenix, Belo produces local programs that “talk about different products and services in the community, and they are enormously successful,” says Kilty. “We're still tampering with the model to make sure it satisfies viewer interests as well as the advertisers'.”
Local stations are changing by adding more local programming. Kilty says it may be time for syndicators to change, too, and alter their relationship with the station community. “Maybe syndication companies need to think about partnering with broadcasters on a venture, as opposed to just producing a product,” Kilty says.
2005 revenue: $654.2 million
Number of stations: 68
Number of markets: 25
Percent of U.S. covered: 23.3%
Owned by a consortium led by Texas Pacific Group, Thomas H. Lee Partners and Saban Capital Group, Univision's owned-and-operated stations broadcast Spanish-language programming. Univision owns 21 full-power and nine low-power stations that air Univision programming, and 22 full-power and 15 low-power stations that air shows from TeleFutura, Univision's sister network. Univision was sold in June for $12.3 billion in cash and debt assumption; some members of the consortium face a class-action lawsuit over the deal.
Univision usually does not buy English-language syndicated shows. It does own one English-language station, KUVI Bakersfield, Calif., which became an MNT affiliate last June.
10 Cox Television
2005 revenues: $619.3 million
Number of stations: 14
Number of markets: 11
Percent of U.S. covered: 10.1%
Markets 5-155, with three duopolies: Charlotte, N.C.; Orlando, Fla.; and San Francisco. The group's flagship is WSB Atlanta, where Cox Enterprises is headquartered. Cox Broadcasting owns three ABC, three NBC, three Fox, two CBS and three independent stations. It also runs one LMA in Reno: independent KAME, which lost its UPN affiliation when the network merged into The CW last year.
The decline of off-net sitcoms is the biggest concern for Cox Television's Fox affiliates and independent stations. “The track record for sitcoms is not good right now,” says Executive VP of Television Bruce Baker, “but they are still a part of what we program.”
Cox is trying to refresh its early-fringe, access and late-fringe sitcom blocks with Buena Vista's According to Jim and Scrubs in a few markets. Several years ago, it acquired Friends for WSOC Charlotte, at a license fee commensurate with the show's ratings at the time. But Friends' ratings have dropped nearly 30% year-to-year, making that deal less attractive.
Baker doesn't see an immediate resolution to the problem. In the meantime, he plans to “sharpen our marketing, partner with syndicators as much as we can on ideas to market and promote the shows, and do things out of the box to help bring people to the shows. In some cases, we will move shows around.”
11 Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.
2005 revenues: $591.1 million
Number of stations: 58
Number of markets: 36
Percent of U.S. covered: 12.5%
Markets 15-116. The group operates more stations than any other. Sinclair's largest market is Minneapolis.; its smallest, Peoria, Ill. The group comprises 19 Fox, 17 MNT, 10 ABC, nine CW, two CBS and one NBC affiliate. It runs 12 duopolies: Pittsburgh; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Nashville; Milwaukee; San Antonio; Birmingham, Ala,; Las Vegas; Oklahoma City; Greensboro, N.C.; Buffalo, N.Y.; Mobile, Ala.; and Champaign, Ill. The pioneer of the local market agreement, Sinclair also manages 11 stations, including outlets in Tampa, Fla., and Baltimore.
Sinclair depends on syndication for programming early fringe and access. “With all of these Fox, CW and My Network stations, we are in a transition, from mostly sitcoms to a few sitcoms and a great deal of first-run,” says VP of Group Programming and Promotions Bill Butler.
He says the group has made “incredible strides” on its Fox stations with 3-5 p.m. programming since the network got out of kids TV in January 2002. Now it wants to do the same for its MNT and CW stations, using talk, court and game shows.
“We would love to have that young-skewing 5 p.m. show, but the syndicators have not found it,” Butler says.
Beyond early fringe, Sinclair would like to air more first-run programming in access as well. One possibility is NBC Universal's Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which Sinclair will start airing as a strip this fall.
“Law & Order: CI won't necessarily play in access, but it will be a good opportunity to see if we can expect off-net drama to work in early fringe.”
12 Raycom Media Inc.
2005 revenue: $588 million
Number of stations: 37
Number of markets: 31
Percent of U.S. covered: 8.3%
Markets 17-180, with duopolies in four, including its largest, Cleveland, with CBS affiliate WOIO and MNT outlet WUAB. The group owns 15 NBC stations, eight CBS, five each of ABC and Fox, three MNTs and one CW.
Executive VP of Programming Mary Carole McDonnell has picked up only one new syndicated show for next fall, Sony's Judge David Young. But she isn't panicked about going into NATPE with few other offerings. Several Raycom stations already air staples like Oprah, Entertainment Tonight and last season's only breakout hit, Rachael Ray.
McDonnell is worried about the lack of sitcoms moving to syndication. “It's a concern when a station has built their 5-7 p.m. block with sitcoms,” she says, “and how they'll make the transition to first-run or pursue some other programming direction.”
She is encouraged that syndicators are trying out new or refreshed genres, such as daily strips of Baywatch and NBC's Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
13 LIN Television Corp.
2005 revenues: $401.9 million
Number of TV stations: 28
Number of markets: 18
Percent of U.S. covered: 7.5%
Markets 25-188, with WISH Indianapolis its largest owned station and WLFI Lafayette, Ind., its smallest. Besides its owned-and-operated stations, the company runs three LMAs and has a 20% interest in KXAS Dallas and KNSD San Diego through a joint venture with NBC. LIN also is a 50% non-voting investor in Banks Broadcasting Inc., which owns KWCV Wichita, Kan., and KNIN Boise, Idaho. And LIN is a one-third owner of NBC affiliate WAND Decatur, Ill., which it manages under a management-services agreement. The group has six duopolies: Indianapolis; Hartford, Conn.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Norfolk, Va.; Buffalo, N.Y.; and Austin, Texas.
Like most group executives, Executive VP of Television Scott Blumenthal would like to see syndicators try something different, especially in early fringe and access. “Obviously, we would have liked to have more opportunity to buy new shows for the afternoons,” he says. “But we're also afraid to keep throwing money at shows to try to battle Oprah.”
Blumenthal says LIN and other groups are considering new alternatives for the afternoons and early evenings, such as working together to create a PM Magazine type of show with a heavy emphasis on local programming.
LIN also is very interested in TV shows that incorporate other platforms. “There are a lot of people out there that aren't your traditional syndicators that are coupling different media,” says Blumenthal. “We want to take a look at some of that.”
For 2007, however, he says, LIN has “no overwhelming plans to buy as a group.”
14 Media General Inc.
2005 revenue: $399 million
Number of stations: 23
Number of markets: 21
Percent of U.S. covered: 8.5%
Markets 12-179, plus several digital channels that air news. The Broadcast Group has a few digital duopolies and one full-power duopoly in Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C.: CBS affiliate WSPA and CW outlet WYCW. Media General owns nine NBC, nine CBS, three ABC and two CW affiliates. The company last year completed acquisition of four NBC stations, including WNCN in its second-largest market, Raleigh, N.C. It also sold a handful of CBS affiliates.
Two court shows pique the interest of Steve Gleason, Broadcast Group VP of programming and program development: Sony Pictures Television's Judge David Young and a celebrity-themed court show from Warner Bros.
Gleason isn't worried about the otherwise meager offerings, even though needs at Media General are great. The group has stations in a wide array of markets, each with viewers looking for something different, whether that's talk, court or sitcoms.
His concern with this year's crop is that Media General will be forced to renew low-rated programs. But the group has an alternative to syndication: For about five years, it has produced a morning variety show called Daytime in its largest market, Tampa, Fla. The show is being rolled out into other markets.
Gleason also is encouraged by the revival of weekday off-network dramas: “I give NBC Universal a lot of credit for coming out with Law & Order: Criminal Intent. It's a fresh new off-network drama, so that's worth a look.”
15 Post-Newsweek Stations
2005 revenue: $378 million
Number of stations: 6
Number of markets: 6
Percent of U.S. covered: 7.4%
Markets 10-50: NBC affiliates in its two largest markets, Houston and Detroit, plus two ABCs, one CBS and one independent, WJXT Jacksonville, Fla.
Post-Newsweek stations are mostly set for the fall with top-tier programs from CBS Television Distribution, such as Oprah, Dr. Phil and Entertainment Tonight. The stations also produce a slew of original programs.
Post-Newsweek has been renewing most of its syndicated programs but hasn't yet picked up new programs for the fall, claiming a weak marketplace.
“I think this will happen for quite a while,” President/CEO Alan Frank says, observing that many time slots are already accounted for with reliable veterans like Oprah.
16 Scripps Television Station Group
2005 revenue: $374 million
Number of stations: 10
Number of markets: 9
Percent of U.S. covered: 8.0%
Markets 11-62, with six ABC stations, three NBC and one independent. Its duopoly is independent KMCI and NBC affiliate KSHB Kansas City, Mo.
This year's drought isn't a major concern for stations in some of Scripps' largest markets, a few which have long aired powerhouses like Oprah. But the same can't be said for those in smaller markets. “Our independent in Kansas City gets all of its programming from syndicators, and stations in Tampa and Phoenix haven't had top-tier programs because they came in late to the game,” notes Gary Stark, director of programming and research.
Scripps isn't yet delving into original productions, which could fill slots otherwise occupied by underperforming syndicated shows. But Stark notes that Scripps has been able to acquire Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! in some markets and that Rachael Ray has been a good addition.
He expected to see more product this year, including game shows from CBS Television Distribution (formerly King World) and NBC Universal. Since these programs have not yet materialized, Stark is relieved to see innovative offerings such as Criminal Intent, particularly for daytime, where he says there's the greatest need for new programs.
Stark is hopeful that NBC will expand Today. “There isn't enough syndicated product to fill the holes the networks don't program,” he says. “Especially with the NBC stations, and probably with Fox stations as well, you sometimes wish you can pick up an hour from the networks.”
17 Gray Television Inc.
2005 revenue: $326 million
Number of stations: 36
Number of markets: 29
Percent of U.S. covered: 5.7%
Markets 58-190, including two new acquisitions: CBS affiliate WSWG Valdosta, Ga., and NBC affiliate WNDU South Bend, Ind. It comprises 17 CBS, 10 NBC, eight ABC and one Fox.
Most Gray stations choose their own programs, rather than having Gray oversee group deals. “We like to tailor the syndicated programs to each market,” explains President/COO Bob Prather. “There are some markets where programs do real well and some markets where they don't. That's why we count on our managers to know the viewers' taste.”
He says the dearth of new syndicated properties isn't yet a concern, since many stations have long-term deals. They are doing well with top-rated CBS Television Distribution shows such as Oprah, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!
Prather notes that local news is a critical component for most of the group's stations: Gray outlets average more than 22 hours of news programming each week, and 24 stations rank No. 1 in their market, 12 rank No. 2. “News is about 45% of our revenue,” he says.
Gray is parlaying some of its news programming into its 30-plus digital channels, including 17 MyNetworkTV, nine CW, five Fox, and several 24-hour news-and-weather channels. Gray is placing some syndicated programs on these stations, as well as news and high school and college sports.
18 Meredith Corp.
2005 revenue: $325 million
Number of stations: 14
Number of markets: 13
Percent of U.S. covered: 7.7%
Markets 9-194. The Broadcast Group's two largest are Atlanta and Phoenix, where it has CBS affiliates. It has six CBS; four Fox; including a low-power in Bend, Ore.; two MyNetworkTV; one NBC; and one CW outlet. The group also has several digital stations, including an MNT in Flint-Saginaw, Mich., and a Telemundo affiliate in Nashville. It has duopolies in Kansas City, Mo., and Portland, Ore.
Executive VP Doug Lowe is ready to make deals at NATPE. But he says many Meredith stations don't need a lot of new content, not when Oprah and Dr. Phil are filling slots at some of its larger ones. Moreover, he adds, most aren't hurting for new content in prime access.
Still, there's a need for new programming, such as court shows and talk shows, particularly in daytime in smaller markets. But Lowe, like many, isn't thrilled with syndication's new offerings.
Nonetheless, Meredith isn't sitting idle. It's rolling out its original 9 a.m. lifestyle show More into still-to-be-determined markets. The show now airs in Portland, Ore., and Las Vegas.
Lowe says the benefits of original content extend beyond having something to plug holes with. “We can use the resources we're already using for our local early-morning newscasts,” he says. “We can control the content, and the costs are under our control.”
More debuted last year in Portland, where it often ranks No. 1 in its time slot. It premiered in September in Las Vegas and occasionally scores a No. 1 rating.
Meredith is figuring out which markets will be next to air More, which is produced in individual markets with some shared content.
The group is also in the early stages of determining which new syndicated programs it will snap up for fall. It recently picked up Sony's Judge David Young for Portland.
19 Clear Channel
2005 revenue: $315 million
Number of stations: 42
Number of markets: 26
Percent of U.S. covered: 8.6%
Markets 5-202 with 12 duopolies. Its largest market is San Francisco-Santa Rosa, where it has independent KFTY. The group has several low-power and digital stations, a few of which are CW affiliates. It has nine CW, eight full-power Fox, seven NBC, six ABC, six CBS, four independents and three MyNetworkTV outlets, including a station shared with Fox in Jacksonville, Fla.
Clear Channel's pending sale to private-equity firms Thomas H. Lee Partners and Bain Capital Partners for nearly $27 billion, including $8 billion in debt, hasn't put the brakes on programming plans. VP of Programming Dan Stein says most of its traditional affiliates are locked into long-term deals in prime access with game shows and entertainment newsmagazines. And most of its non-traditional affiliates are set with sitcoms, with several picking up Two and a Half Men and Family Guy.
Clear Channel's needs are greatest in daytime, where new court shows like Judge David Young will most likely be slotted for the fall. “It's an extraordinarily successful genre, particularly on non-traditional affiliates,” says Stein. “One of our strongest shows is Judge Judy. It's a terrific versatile player on traditional and non-traditional affiliates. And it's a great news lead-in.”
Last year, the station group locked in Judge Maria Lopez for two years.
Talk shows are more problematic. Clear Channel picked up Rachael Ray in a few markets for two years, and that's doing well. Tyra Banks Show has been renewed in several markets, although it has had a mixed track record. And the group has a hole in several markets where Megan Mullally aired.
Clear Channel is also likely to pick up Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Baywatch and Program Partners' teen-oriented Degrassi: The Next Generation.
It will also delve deeper into originals, although no firm plans are in place. Clear Channel already airs original Monday-Friday lifestyle programs in San Antonio, Syracuse, N.Y., and Salt Lake City. Says Stein, “Locally produced strips are working for us, and they are very advertiser-friendly.”
20 Sunbeam Television Corp.
2005 revenue: $255 million
Number of stations: 3
Number of markets: 2
Percent of U.S. covered: 3.5%
Sunbeam operates two stations in Boston (the No. 7 market) with NBC affiliate WHDH and CW outlet WLVI, which it acquired in December. In Miami (No. 16), it has Fox affiliate WSVN.
Sunbeam focuses much of its efforts on producing local news. In fact, it says its Fox affiliate in Miami, WSVN, has more news each day (10 hours) than any other station in the country. It also produces a nightly local show, Deco Drive, that has been on for 11 years.
Still, Sunbeam has plenty of syndicated programs on its three stations, including the newly acquired CW affiliate WLVI Boston. But it needs more. The station group picked up Law & Order: Criminal Intent for WSVN and renewed Family Feud on WSVN and NBC affiliate WHDH Boston.
But the stations have other holes to fill. With Megan Mullally cancelled, a replacement is needed at WHDH. And Sony Pictures Television's Greg Behrendt is still not a certainty to return in the fall. If it does, WLVI has an option to renew it for a second season.
There may be other schedule changes in store, particularly at WLVI, where Sunbeam executives are evaluating the lineup. It airs talk shows Maury and Jerry Springer, both of which will return in the fall, and several off-network sitcoms, including My Wife and Kids and Friends.
21 Young Broadcasting Inc.
2005 revenues: $218.7 million
Number of TV stations: 14
Number of markets: 11
Percent of U.S. covered: 5.8%
Markets 5-177. Largest is former independent KRON San Francisco, now one of the most successful MNT affiliates. Smallest is Rapid City, S.D., satellite of KELO Sioux Falls, S.D., which airs CBS programs. Young owns six CBS, six ABC, one NBC and one MNT affiliate.
With only a few new syndicated programs to choose from, Young Broadcasting is thinking seriously about developing local programs to fill its daytime hours, says VP of Programming Pat Patton.
“These shows would likely be a talk format where you would provide an opportunity for business people and retailers to come in and talk about their products and services on the air,” Patton says. “These are programs they could develop with the staff they already have, and that could generate local revenue.”
In most cases, Young's syndicated needs involve renewing or replacing talk shows, such as Montel, Maury, Martha or Megan Mullally, says Patton. Young is still waiting to see if low-rated rookies Keith Ablow and Greg Behrendt will be back. And although the group has Rachael Ray in a few markets, it has not been bowled over by the show's success. “We like to describe that show as the tallest in a group of midgets,” Patton says. “No one is really knocking the top off of this daytime thing.”
Young yearns for syndicators to develop shows that could compete with the heavyweights—Oprah, Dr. Phil, Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown—in early fringe. In fall 2006, there seemed to be a glut of game shows headed to NATPE, but only Twentieth's Temptation survived the cut.
“We would love to see some game shows that would work in early fringe,” says Young President Deborah McDermott. “It would be nice to have some new product there that would work.”
22 Allbritton Communications
2005 revenue: $207 million
Number of stations: 8
Number of markets: 7
Percent of U.S. covered: 4.0%
Markets 8-68. Seven are ABC affiliates. The group's largest station is WJLA Washington, where it also has a 24-hour news outlet, NewsChannel 8, now in its fifteenth year. Allbritton also has 24-hour weather channels and may soon launch what it's calling hyper-local news outlets tailored to small geographic areas.
Allbritton is largely relying on perennials Oprah and Wheel of Fortune, plus Rachael Ray and an increasing number of original productions. “There's just not a very good success rate for first-run syndication,” explains VP of Sales James Killen. “That's why we remain a pretty big partner with King World [now CBS Television Distribution].” He mentions the success of Oprah, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, as well as Entertainment Tonight and Ellen.
Killen is less than impressed with recent offerings, noting that several low-rated shows that have been renewed probably wouldn't have been in the past. Instead of placing its bets strictly on new shows, Allbritton is focusing more on originals that are comparable to the third hour of NBC's Today, meaning a mix of light news and entertainment. It's a formula that has been working for a few years on Allbritton stations in Tulsa, Okla., and Little Rock, Ark. More such originals debuted last year in Charleston, S.C., and Lynchburg, Va. Allbritton plans to soon launch its own productions in more markets.
The group has also been beefing up its news, with half-hours taking some prime-access slots that had been allotted for syndicated programs.
Says Killen, “That has been very successful for us.”
23 Nexstar Broadcasting Group
2005 revenue: $184 million
Number of stations: 31
Number of markets: 28
Percent of U.S. covered: 5.3%
Nexstar has been building up its portfolio for several years. Its most recent acquisitions are Fox affiliate KFTA Fort Smith, Ark., and CBS affiliate WTAJ Altoona, Pa. The group has two duopolies, in Champaign-Springfield, Ill., and Utica, N.Y. It has 10 NBC, seven Fox, seven CBS, five ABC and two MNT outlets.
Nexstar is heading to NATPE with most of its existing syndicated programs already set for the fall. Although the group still needs programming, executives say there simply isn't much to choose from. Instead, it is filling the void with original infomercial-type programs in a handful of markets.
Nexstar began rolling out these weekly programs about six months ago and will continue to introduce them in additional markets. “In addition to news, our stations do local sports,” says Brian Jones, senior VP/manager, Southwest region. “And we're just beginning a half-hour local home-shopping—type show.”
Nexstar's greatest need for programming is in daytime and the early part of early fringe. Most of its traditional affiliates are well-positioned in prime access with game shows Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! and newsmagazines Entertainment Tonight.
But non-traditional affiliates are having a tougher time in early fringe and prime access, with aging off-network sitcoms losing audience in recent months and newer entries lacking the blockbuster appeal that Seinfeld and Friends once had. “We are taking a hard look at that. Traditionally, [non-traditional affiliates] were heavily programmed with sitcoms,” notes Jones. Other genres, perhaps court shows, may fill the slots.
24 New York Times Co.
2005 revenue: $157 million
Number of stations: 9
Number of markets: 8
Percent of U.S. covered: 3.2%
New York Times Co. on Jan. 4 announced the sale of its TV stations to Oak Hill Capital Partners for $575 million. The group includes stations in markets 42-102. Its largest market, Norfolk, Va., has CBS affiliate WTKR. Among the stations are four CBS, two ABC, two NBC and one MNT. There's a duopoly in Oklahoma City, Okla., with NBC affiliate KFOR and MNT outlet KAUT.
The New York Times Broadcast Media Group began internal discussions about which syndicated shows its stations will renew or pick up for next fall prior to the sale of its stations. Last year, the station group picked up CBS Television Distribution's Rachael Ray on several stations and renewed Dr. Phil.The group has a long history of filling some stations' weekend schedules with locally produced programs. Most of these originals center on local activities, such as hunting and camping on Pennsylvania Outdoor Life on ABC affiliate WNEP Scranton, Pa. The group also has a game show, News Channel 3 Knowledge Bowl, on CBS outlet WREG Memphis.
The Broadcast Media Group also produces original sports programs, including shows focused on high school teams.Speaking of the sale of the group, which is pending FCC approval, President Bob Eoff says, “Our programming plans have not changed at all since the sale was announced. It's business as usual.”
25 Entravision Holdings
2005 revenue: $136 million
Number of stations: 57
Number of markets: 24
Percent of U.S. covered: 6.8%
Markets 7-187. The vast majority of Entravision stations are affiliates of Spanish-language network Univision, which owns a 14.9% stake in the company. Entravision also has independent English-language, family-friendly outlet WJAL Washington. It provides programming to a Fox station in Harlingen-Weslaco, Texas, and an MNT in San Diego, as well as a Telemundo station in San Diego.
Most of the programs that air on Univision affiliates are provided by Mexico-based production company Televisa and Venezuela's Venevision. Univision produces some its own Spanish-language content, however, including daytime talk shows El Gordo y la Flaca and long-running weekend variety show Sábado Gigante. As a result, Entra­vision is not actively seeking syndicated programs from U.S. producers.
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