In Tight Field, Syndicators Jostle for Slots

With the recent slew of syndication sales, time slots are becoming scarce, and that leaves syndicators intensely courting the NBC and Fox station groups to secure space.

In the past two weeks, NBCUniversal sold Steve Harvey to its own station group, and Sinclair acquired NBCU’s Maury spinoff, Trisha Goddard. Disney/ABC also announced its first round of sales for Katie Couric, moving that show past the 60% clearance mark. Finally, Debmar-Mercury renewed Wendy Williams on the Fox stations through 2014.

“With viewers, audiences and affiliate stations embracing Wendy more than ever, we believe that the franchise is still poised for additional growth,” Mort Marcus, Debmar-Mercury copresident, said in a statement.

In top markets, only NBC and Fox have room for more shows. The other three “gatekeeper” groups— ABC, CBS and Tribune—are currently full.

These recent deals indicate that station groups are seeking more control over their daytime destinies, and are thus willing to sign long-term contracts to keep the syndicated shows they like.

“There’s something to be said for stability in time periods,” said one station-group executive.

“Healthy syndicators mean more shows for us, so I’m willing to work with them to keep them healthy,” added a station programmer.

Stability is why Fox wants to keep Wendy Williams. Across the Fox group, Wendy is frequently the highest-performing daytime show among the key women 25-54 demographic.

TV stations also know that daytime viewers are creatures of habit—note Judge Judy’s chart-topping numbers—so they would prefer to keep shows and let them grow rather than constantly swapping them out in the risky search of something better.

That’s why Debmar-Mercury’s Jeremy Kyle, Warner Bros.’ Anderson and Tribune’s Bill Cunningham may all remain on the air, and why the new shows—CBS Television Distribution’s Jeff Probst, Warner Bros.’ Bethenny Frankel and Twentieth’s Ricki Lake—are still seeking slots. In today’s lowrated daytime environment, station groups know there’s no guarantee the next new show will earn a higher number.

That said, NBC and Fox still need shows, so executives at those groups are fielding a lot of phone calls.

“That’s the nature of the beast when there are 10 other people out there who want the time period,” said the station group executive.

NBC already has filled one of its slots with Steve Harvey. Whether NBC will keep Sony’s Nate Berkus remains a big question, and the group still has another season on its contract with Sony. NBC is expected to keep its slow rollout Access Hollywood Live.

NBC is not expected, however, to retain Entertainment Studios’ We the People With Gloria Allred, which airs on seven of the 10 NBC owned stations. While the show is up 17% on WNBC New York compared to last year’s The Daily Connection, and flat on KXAS Dallas, We the People is down significantly on NBC’s other five owned stations compared to last year’s now-cancelled Real Housewives.

As for Fox, sources say the group likes both Jeremy Kyle and Anderson Cooper creatively—and Anderson is doubling ratings for Fox in Los Angeles and Boston—so it’s very possible Fox will keep that show. However, Anderson is challenged in New York, where it’s not performing well on Tribune’s WPIX. If Warner Bros.’ can’t keep Anderson on the air in New York, Fox might not have the option of keeping it.

NBCU’s Trisha Goddard is in a similar situation. No obvious buyer is appearing for the show in the top markets. NBCU could take Trisha forward without a national clearance, but that means it sacrifices national barter advertising sales, and it’s hard to make that economic equation work.

Still, many programmers prefer to see how their shows perform in the November sweeps, so eager syndicators have to cool their heels for a few more weeks. “It’s absurd to make decisions on anything before November,” said the station executive.

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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.