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No little plans

The Hollywood syndication studios ain't what they used to be. Consolidation on the local-station front and on the Hollywood-studio side has shaken up an industry that was almost dormant just a few years back. In turn, it has made for a number of strange bedfellows, with pairings that once would have been considered unthinkable now a reality. Nearly every syndication distributor has aligned itself with at least one station group or another in an effort to get clearances in the major markets. And syndicated programs that were formerly only the domain of local broadcast stations are now being sold to cable networks and even Internet outlets.

Under the Viacom banner alone, there are now more than a half dozen former syndication companies that have been squeezed into giants King World and Paramount Domestic Television. No longer standing are Rysher, Eyemark, Worldvision or CBS Enterprises, all now under the auspices of King World or Paramount management. And who knows whether King World and Paramount will eventually be put together into one giant syndication studio? If so, Entertainment Tonight
and Oprah
will be under the same aegis.

The list of studios that have their own station groups is almost as long as the ones that don't. Tribune Entertainment, Twentieth Television, Buena Vista Television, King World/Paramount, Hearst Entertainment and NBC's new syndication unit all have built-in station groups. And NBC Enterprises and Syndication upped the ante on station alignment late last year when it announced its unprecedented agreements with Hearst-Argyle and Gannett Broadcasting covering 60% of the U.S.

The syndicators that don't have ties to station groups-Warner Bros. Domestic TV, Columbia TriStar Television Distribution, Pearson Television North America and a handful of others-almost all consider themselves "niche" suppliers.

And the days when the Hollywood syndicators went first and only to the local broadcast stations are a thing of the past. Movies, first-run shows and many of the top off-network shows are now heading to USA, TNT/TBS and the FX's of the world. Studios USA has taken things a bit further, selling shows both to stations and to co-owned USA Networks for dual runs.

We've sat down with studio executives from 15 top studios to discuss their plans, their thoughts and their challenges as they do business in a changing environment. Their comments begin on page 56.