At NATPE, SVOD Platforms Go Looking For Laughs

Twentieth will kick off the NATPE conference Jan. 27 by throwing a blowout party at South Beach’s SoHo House for its two newest off-network sitcoms: New Girl (Fox) and Last Man Standing (ABC). Cast members from both shows—including Zooey Deschanel, Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield, Tim Allen, Nancy Travis and Hector Elizondo—will be mixing and mingling with NATPE-goers in Miami for the week.

“We’re coming to NATPE with both guns blazing,” says Paul Franklin, Twentieth executive VP and general manager of broadcast sales. “These are the next two shows in line as you look at what’s available in syndication. Both of them are unique in their own way.” That uniqueness has not gone unnoticed by Netflix and other subscription video-on-demand companies.

New Girl’s Millennial Appeal

New Girl and Last Man Standing will launch in broadcast and cable syndication in fall 2015, although Last Man Standing could be pushed to 2016, Franklin says. New Girl was sold to Netflix last year for an estimated price of $900,000 per episode, according to sources. New Girl’s first two seasons are already available on the popular SVOD service.

One of New Girl’s selling points is its millennial appeal, says Franklin, which is what attracted Netflix to it.

“Millennials are currently the largest demographic group out there. They are what’s hot and up-and-coming,” says Franklin. “They’ve got a tremendous amount of buying power, and we’ve got the shows.”

Twentieth is rolling out the broadcast and cable sales of New Girl just as Fox prepares to air a big episode following its broadcast of Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2, featuring a cameo by Prince. Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, in its first season, also will air in the post-Super Bowl hour.

Men Still Love Allen

Regarding Last Man Standing, Twentieth is focusing on the series’ male appeal as the show heads out to market.

“There’s a strong adult 25-54 audience out there and Last Man Standing appeals to those people. It has a huge and successful star in Tim Allen,” says Franklin.

The only other off-network sitcom still coming out for 2015 is Warner Bros.’ Suburgatory, which will return to ABC primetime on Jan. 15. But the start of syndication sales for that show remains a ways off.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros.’ 2 Broke Girls already has been sold to TV stations and TBS for a fall 2015 debut.

Off-net sitcoms that will premiere this fall include a raft of off-cable sitcoms: Debmar-Mercury’s Anger Management (FX), Disney/ABC’s Cougar Town (TBS) and CBS Television Distribution’s Hot in Cleveland (TV Land), as well as Warner Bros.’ Mike & Molly (CBS) and Twentieth’s Raising Hope (Fox).

SVOD Enters Sitcom Game

The arrival of SVOD services such as Netflix and Amazon have given sales of off-network series a new nuance. While the sale of an off-net sitcom used to be a fairly straightforward process—a show would go to the highest broadcast bidder and be run as a strip—there are now many options for sellers to consider before making their deals.

New Girl’s sale to Netflix proved there is a market for off-net sitcoms on SVOD platforms, something that not long ago was considered unlikely because either broadcast and cable buyers would snap them up or Netflix would not be willing to pay for them. However, Netflix stepped up.

“TV services need programming,” says a syndication executive. “Sales of shows used to be more black and white, but now it’s all grey. Still, if a service buys a show at a particular price, and viewers come and the service makes whatever money it needs to make on that show, then it’s a good purchase. It’s just a matter of what buyers will pay to acquire these shows.”

As a result, while there’s a limited supply of so-called “A” sitcoms, such as Warner Bros.’ The Big Bang Theory and Twentieth’s Modern Family, there are plenty of other sitcoms that have dedicated audiences—including New Girl and Sony Pictures Television’s Community, which Netflix acquired for an estimated $750,000 per episode, according to sources—that bring new viewers to SVOD services. That represents a big change in sitcom sales, and more dollars for distributors.

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.