What is syndication?

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Keith_R, Sep 7, 2001.

  1. Keith_R

    Keith_R Screenwriter

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    I was just wondering, what is syndication? I hear a lot of people mention it on this forum in regards to putting TV shows on DVD but I don't know what it is, could someone please explain it to me. Thanks.
    -Keith-
     
  2. Scott Weinberg

    Scott Weinberg Lead Actor

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    I'm certainly no expert, but "syndication" is when other stations (usually of the UHF variety) buy a TV show for a set amount of years and basically run it into the ground.
    The Simpsons and Home Improvement are usually on twice a day. That's syndication. At least, that's my cheap-ass layman definition.
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  3. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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    Strictly speaking syndication is a supplemental or alternative way for airing TV shows, off the major broadcast networks. There are two kinds of syndication: 1st run and "2nd run" (which covers the 2nd through 10,000th runs. [​IMG])
    1) Second-run syndication: A show (comedy or drama) airs on a major broadcast network (once CBS, NBC and ABC, now including Fox. The WB and UPN are more properly "netlettes" but things work pretty much the same way for them, too. [​IMG]) Usually the studio producing the show owns 100% of it, and the network pays a per-episode license fee to air it. 9 out of 10 times this fee is less than what it costs the studio to produce the show. The studio is losing money making the show while it is on the network.
    It used to be the case that the studio kept losing money until the show went out of production on its own or the network cancelled it. At that point the studio could take the show to a syndicate of local stations or a syndicator who would package the show with other ex-network shows and sell the bunch to individual local stations across the country. These are the shows that run five days a week between 4 and 8 PM on your local TV stations. (Mostly comedies, these days. Seinfeld, Home Improvement, Fraiser.)
    The syndicators would pay one fee to the studio, and then sell the shows themselves to the local stations at a higher price, which is how they made their money. And they made a lot of it. Viacom, which now owns Paramount and Blockbuster, started out as a syndicator of old TV shows.
    In more recent years the studios won the right to sell series into syndication while the networks were still airing new episodes. Typically they have to wait until they have four years or 100 episodes (whichever comes first) before they can do so. This both saves the network from having a show compete with itself and gives the local stations enough episodes that they can run the show five days a week without having to start the cycle over again too often.
    While technically the term "syndication" only applies to shows sold through syndicators to local broadcast stations, it is now often used to describe sales of reruns to basic cable channels like FX, Sci-Fi, TNT or A&E. These deals usually give the cable channel exclusive use of all or some of the seasons of a series. (Which is why you can see older Law & Order episodes at 7 PM on A&E, and more recent ones at 8 PM on TNT. [​IMG])
    This whole paradigm was based on a couple of things: 1) The FCC barred the movie studios from owning television networks or stations. 2) The FCC also limited the number of stations the networks could own, and limited the number and types of programs that they owned. This forced the networks to buy most of their fictional prime time series from the studios, and gave the studios a limited first-run market in the form of the networks, and an unlimited second-run market in the form of independent TV stations and off-network hours on network affiliates. This made it worth their while to deficit-finance shows during their network runs, because they knew that they were certain to make a profit eventually, as long as a show stayed on the air long enough. (The old rule of thumb was five seasons.) Of course, this also meant that they ate the loss on shows that are cancelled early.
    This paradigm is now changing. Both of the FCC restrictions mentioned above have been lifted, which is why Fox, Warner Bros. and Paramount suddenly started up TV networks of their own. Now the networks can own at least a piece of more of their shows, so that means they can share in the endless syndication profits. At the same time the first run syndication market (thought I'd forgotten about that, didn't you?) is drying up on the broadcast side, and shifting mostly to cable. There simply aren't enough independent stations left - they're all affiliates of one or another of the networks or netlettes now. (More on this below.)
    BTW, the reason new episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit air on NBC in primetime and late-night a few days later on USA Network, is a new wrinkle in joint-financing. A broadcast network and a basic cable channel both pay license fees (somewhat smaller than they'd each pay normally, but together more than the studio would get from only one) and the cable channel gets to air an "instant rerun" in off-network hours within a week of the first network run. These deals are becoming more common. Each episode of the new Battlestar Galactica will run twice a week, once on Fox and later on The Sci-Fi Channel.
    Both types of second-run syndication deals can affect DVD releases in this country, because a cable channel or syndicator that has just forked over big bucks for an "exlcusive" on a popular series does not want fans to be able to buy the same series and watch it whenever they want with no commercials. The whole point of their buying it was so that fans would have to watch the show on their channel when they said so, and watch the commercials they were selling. So some syndication and cable deals now include provisions that assure the TV folks "x" number of airings of each episode of a given season before that season can be released on home video. (Which is the reason for the whole Buffy problem in the U.S. in a nutshell. The economics and structure of TV in Europe is totally different, so this isn't an issue over there.)
    First-run syndication: (briefly) Again, this is changing. But a few years ago (pre-The WB and UPN), if you couldn't sell a show to CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox, but you still thought it could succeed, you sold it directly to syndication. It could run in prime time on independents, or in late afternoon/early evening slots on network affiliates. Hercules and Xena were first-run syndication shows. They didn't have a single, national time-slot or much national advertising. Each local station ran them where they thought they'd get the biggest audience, at different times, often on different nights.
    Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine were also first-run syndicated shows - but in their case more likely because Paramount thought that it could generate higher aggregate license fees from a bunch of local stations than it could from a network because of the magic Trek name. (The original Trek had been a failure in primetime on a major network, but a huge success in early evening syndication. It also broke a major rule - it succeeded even though there were only 79 episodes - at the time 2 1/2 seasons' worth.)
    Maybe they were right, but it still wasn't enough to cover production costs. Both shows ran up huge deficits and only turned a profit when they went into reruns. (Paramount just sold a whole slate of Trek reruns to The National Network for a reported $300 million. They went with a cable channel - the other major bidder was The Sci-Fi Channel - rather than syndication for the same reason so many other are - the broadcast market is dying thanks to UPN and the WB.)
    And that is probably more than you ever wanted to know about syndication. [​IMG]
    Regards,
    Joe
    [Edited last by Joseph DeMartino on September 07, 2001 at 09:46 PM]
     
  4. Kevin Leonard

    Kevin Leonard Supporting Actor

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    Yeah, Scott has the basic definition of it.
     
  5. David Lambert

    David Lambert Executive Producer

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    Scott basically has it right. Let's tighten up that definition a bit.
    When a show is first aired on TV, it is usually broadcast on one of the big networks. Like right now, you can only catch "Dark Angel" on Fox (previously on Tuesdays, this season it moved to Fridays). That's NOT syndication.
    "E.R." was like that at first, right? You could only see it on NBC on Thursday nights. That WAS NOT syndication either, nor is it these days on that day, time, and station. That is referred to as "First Run".
    But, now you can see "E.R." on late nights, or weekends. And it's not necessarily on it's First Run station (your local NBC station) for those other days/times, either. THAT is syndication. NBC has sold the rights to older reruns to local stations, on a market-by-market basis, to show the episodes whenever they please (usually; sometimes the contract will make specific demands).
    On occassion, a show's "First Run" will BE in syndication. A great example of this was Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
    The original ST was broadcast on NBC from 1966-1969 (3 seasons). Then it was syndicated. When ST:TNG came on in the 80's, the folks behind the show "rewarded" the local stations in each market who had supported ST much longer than NBC had, by giving them first shot at ordering the new series. If a station in a market passed, then it was sold to a different lcoal station in that market, or else that market didn't get the series. ST[​IMG]S9 was done the same way. When Star Trek: Voyager came along, it went back to non-syndication. Why? Because Paramount, owners of all ST properties, decided to launch the UPN network, and wanted to first-run ST:V on their new network. Now that the series has finished it's first run, it is syndicated all over.
    Other shows that were syndicated in their first run include Hercules, Xena, and Entertainment Tonight. Some shows, like Stargate SG-1, first run on a cable network (Showtime I believe), and then are syndicated on non-cable channels.
    So, as long as the rights to the TV show are held by the local stations all over the country who paid for those rights, the original owners cannot put out DVD's for them until the syndication contract allows them to. That's what the local stations get in return...a chance to earn some money off of these shows! That's why "E.R." isn't on DVD.
    But why not "Dark Angel"? Well, either Fox has already sold syndication rights to this series, which might not kick in for years to come. Or else they refuse to put out DVD's now because they don't want to destroy their chance to earn some bucks from syndication first. I'm sure they realize that the DVD money will always be there for them later on, after they've profited from syndication.
    Does this help you out at all?
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    [Edited last by David Lambert on September 07, 2001 at 09:09 PM]
     
  6. Mike Brantley

    Mike Brantley Stunt Coordinator

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    Way to go, Joseph! You're an excellent writer and a truly gifted "explainer." I knew all this, but still I truly enjoyed reading your explanation. It should be published in a FAQ somewhere. [​IMG]
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  7. David Lambert

    David Lambert Executive Producer

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    I see that Joseph's lengthy explanation was WAAAAAY better than my explanation. I bow to the master! [​IMG]
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  8. Keith_R

    Keith_R Screenwriter

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    Thanks these are all very good explanations [​IMG] I kinda imagined syndication to be as such but I wasn't sure. Now I know for sure, you learn something everyday [​IMG] thanks.
    -Keith-
     

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