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First-run syndication

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First-run syndication

In broadcasting, syndication is the sale of the right to broadcast radio shows and television shows by multiple radio stations and television stations, without going through a broadcast network, though the process of syndication may conjure up structures like those of a network itself, by its very nature. It is common in countries where broadcast programming is scheduled by television networks with local independent affiliates, particularly in the United States. In the rest of the world, however, most countries have centralized networks and/or TV stations without local affiliates and syndication is less common, although shows can also be syndicated internationally. In the film industry, film distribution is handled by film distributors.

Types of syndication

  • First-run syndication refers to programming that is broadcast for the first time as a syndicated show (not any one particular network), or at least first so offered in a given country (programs originally created and broadcast outside of the United States, first presented on a network in their country of origin, have often been syndicated in the U.S. and in some other countries);
  • Off-network syndication involves the licensing of a program that was originally run on network television or in some cases first run syndication: a rerun; these are usually found in stations affiliated with smaller networks like Fox, CW especially since these networks broadcast 1 less hour of prime time network programming than the "Big 3 networks"
  • Public broadcasting syndication has arisen in the U.S. as a parallel service to stations in the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the handful of independent public broadcasting stations.

When syndicating a show, the production company, or a distribution company called a syndicator, attempts to license the show to one station in each media market or area, or to a commonly-owned station group, in the country and around the world. If successful, this can be lucrative; but the syndicator may only be able to license the show in a small percentage of the markets.

Syndication differs from licensing the show to a television network; once a network picks up a show, it is usually guaranteed to run on most or all the network's affiliates on the same day of the week and at the same time (in a given time zone, in countries where this is a concern). Some production companies create their shows and license them to networks at a loss, at least at first, hoping that the series will succeed and that eventual off-network syndication will turn a profit for the show.

A syndicated program is licensed to stations for "cash" (the stations purchase rights to insert some or all of the ads at their level); given to stations for access to airtime (wherein the syndicators get the ad revenue); or the combination of both. The trade of program for airtime is called "barter".

While market penetration can vary widely and revenues can be unreliable, the producers often enjoy more content freedom in the absence of network standards and practices departments; frequently, some innovative ideas are explored by first-run syndicated programming which the networks are leery of giving airtime to. Meanwhile, top-rated syndicated shows in the United States usually have a domestic market reach as high as 98%.

Very often, series that are aired in syndication are cut to time. For example a standard American sitcom runs twenty-two minutes, but in syndication it may be cut back to twenty minutes to make room for more commercials.

Syndication can take the form of either weekly or daily syndication. The game shows, some "tabloid" and entertainment news shows, and stripped talk shows are broadcast daily on weekdays, while most other first-run syndicated shows are broadcast weekly.

Although it is common parlance to refer to the "selling" or "sale" of a show, this is a misnomer. The shows are actually licensed for a specific number of broadcasts on a station or network. The actual ownership of a show does not change hands and generally remains with the producing entity.

There was a big discussion sometime in the 90's/00's about whether a show could be syndicated while it was still on the air. There was much opposition to this idea and it was generally viewed as leading to a death of the show. But it actually made the shows more popular. A prime example of this is Law & Order.[1]

First-run syndication in the U.S.

As with radio in the U.S., television networks, particularly in their early years, did not offer a full-day's-worth of programming for their affiliates, even in the evening or "prime time" hours. Some stations were not affiliated with any network. Both groups sought to supplement their locally produced programming and whatever network feeds there were with content that could be flexibly scheduled. The development of videotape and, much later, enhanced satellite downlink access furthered these options. While most past first-run syndicated shows were shown only in syndication, some canceled network shows continued to be produced for first-run syndication or were revived for syndication several years after their original cancellation.

Ziv Television Programs, Inc., after establishing itself as a major radio syndicator, was the first major first-run television syndicator, creating several long-lived series in the 1950s and selling them directly to regional sponsors, who in turn sold the shows to local stations. Among the most famous and widely watched Ziv offerings were Sea Hunt, I Led Three Lives and Highway Patrol. Some first-run syndicated series were picked up by networks in the 1950s and early 1960s, notably The Adventures of Superman and Mr. Ed. The networks started syndicating their reruns in the late 1950s, and first-run syndication shrank sharply, for a decade. Some stalwart series continued, notably Death Valley Days; other ambitious projects were also to flourish, however briefly, such as The Play of the Week (1959–1961), produced by David Susskind (of the syndicated talk show Open End and also producer of such network fare as NYPD).

However, FCC rulings in the late 1960s curtailed the U.S. networks' ability to schedule programming in what has become known as the "early fringe", notably the 7-8pm (ET/PT) hour of "prime time", with the stated hope that this might encourage more local programming of social and cultural relevance to communities (off-network syndie repeats were also banned); some projects of this sort came to fruition, though usually relatively commercial and slick ones such as the Group W Evening Magazine/PM Magazine franchise, and such pre-existing national projects as the brief commercial-television run of William F. Buckley, Jr.'s interview/debate series Firing Line. The more obvious result was an increase in Canadian-produced syndicated dramatic series, such as Dusty's Trail and the Colgate-sponsored Dr. Simon Locke. Game shows, often evening editions of network afternoon series, flourished, and a few odd items such as Wild Kingdom, cancelled by NBC in 1971, had a continuing life as syndicated programming tailor-made for the early fringe.

The 1970s and 1980s

Into the 1970s, first-run syndication continued to be an odd mix: cheaply produced, but not always poor-quality, "filler" programming. These included the dance-music show Soul Train, and 20th Century Fox's That's Hollywood, a television variation on the popular That's Entertainment! theatrically released collections of film clips from the MGM library.

There were also many imported programs distributed this way. These include the documentary series Wild, Wild World of Animals (repackaged by Time Life with narration by William Conrad) and Thames Television's sober and necessarily grim The World at War. The Starlost (1973) was a Canadian series, apparently modified from the vision of science fiction writers Harlan Ellison and Ben Bova. UFO (1970) and Space: 1999 (1975) came from British producer Gerry Anderson and his partner Lew Grade, previously best known for Supermarionation (puppet/animation) series such as Thunderbirds. The most successful syndicated show in the US in the 1970s was probably The Muppet Show, also from Lew Grade. Animated series from the 1980s Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds and Around the World with Willy Fog came from Spanish animation production company BRB Internacional and their Japanese co-producers Nippon Animation.

Game shows thrived in syndication in the decade. Five-day-a-week versions of What's My Line?, Truth or Consequences and To Tell the Truth premiered in the late 1960s and found loyal audiences for many years. Several daytime network games began producing once-a-week night-time versions for the early-evening hours, usually with bigger prizes and often featuring different hosts (emcees were limited to appearing on one network and one syndicated game simultaneously) and modified titles (Match Game PM, The $100,000 Name That Tune or The $25,000 Pyramid, for example). Of these shows, Let's Make a Deal and Hollywood Squares were the first to jump to twice-a-week syndicated versions around 1973. Another popular daytime show to have a weekly syndicated version was The Price Is Right, which began concurrently in weekly syndication and on CBS; the syndicated "nighttime" version was hosted by Dennis James for its first five years, after which daytime host Bob Barker took over for another three years of weekly episodes (even though, by this point, the daytime and nighttime shows had diverged noticeably). The night-time version of Family Feud (1977) quickly jumped from once-weekly to twice, and finally to five-days-a-week, and its massive popularity, along with that of new five-a-day entries like Jack Barry's The Joker's Wild (1977) and Tic-Tac-Dough (1978) and Chuck Barris's increasingly raunchy remakes of his 1960s hits The Newlywed Game and The Dating Game, brought an end (with rare exceptions) to the era of once-a-week games. Also popular in first-run syndication and daytime was The Gong Show, hosted by Barris throughout most of its run.

Wait Till Your Father Gets Home (1972) was a Hanna-Barbera cartoon series attempting to ape the All in the Family-style sitcoms; Skippy the Bush Kangaroo (1969) was an Australian children's series in the manner of Flipper or Gentle Ben (a decade later, the decidedly not-for-children Australian Prisoner: Cell Block H would have a brief US syndicated run); and a Canadian sketch-comedy series began appearing on U.S. television stations in 1977—Second City Television would eventually find a home, for two seasons, on NBC, as SCTV Network 90 (and on cable station Cinemax later).

The Universal / Paramount-produced package of original programming, Operation Prime Time, began appearing on ad hoc quasi-networks of (almost by necessity) non-network stations in the U.S. in 1978, with a mini-series adaptation of John Jakes's The Bastard.

From the latter 1960s into the late 1970s, Westinghouse also found considerable success with The Mike Douglas Show, a variety/talk show hosted by a singer with an easygoing interview style, which played in afternoons in most markets; similar programs soon followed featuring Merv Griffin, who had been the host of CBS's most sustained late-night answer to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson previously, and another network veteran, Dinah Shore. Also notable was the growing success of audience-participation talk shows, particularly that of the innovator of the format, Phil Donahue.

First-run syndication in the 1970s also made it possible for some shows no longer wanted by network television to remain on the air. In 1971, ABC cancelled The Lawrence Welk Show, which went on to produce new episodes in syndication for another 11 years, and currently continues to much success in weekend reruns (with new segments featuring Welk cast members inserted within the episodes) distributed to PBS stations by the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority. Also in 1971, CBS dropped Lassie and Hee Haw, the latter show's run ending as part of the network's cancellation of all of its rural-oriented shows (known then as "rural purge"; see The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres). Lassie entered first-run syndication for two years, while Hee Haw continued to produce new episodes until 1992.

First-run syndicated comedy

Main article: List of sitcoms broadcast in first-run syndication

Throughout the mid-to-late 1980s into the early 1990s, sitcoms continued to enter first-run syndication after being canceled by the networks, the most successful of which were Mama's Family and Charles In Charge. Other sitcoms during this time to enter first-run syndication after network cancellation included Silver Spoons, Punky Brewster, Webster, It's a Living, Too Close for Comfort, 9 to 5, What's Happening!! (retitled as What's Happening Now!!), and WKRP in Cincinnati (as The New WKRP in Cincinnati). Many of these sitcoms produced new shows in syndication mainly to have enough episodes for a profitable run in rerun syndication. Other sitcoms, such as Small Wonder, Out of This World, The Munsters Today, and Harry and the Hendersons (as well as more action-adventure oriented series like Superboy and My Secret Identity ) enjoyed success in syndication throughout the entire run.

Dramatic first-run syndicated programs

The broadcast networks aired many action-adventure programs from the 1950s to the 1980s. By the late 1980s, however, increasing production costs made them less attractive to the networks. Studios found that reruns of one-hour dramas did not sell as well as sitcoms, so were unable to fully recoup the shows' costs using the traditional deficit financing model.[2] Such shows instead moved to syndication, starting with Star Trek: The Next Generation, which debuted in 1987 and became one of the most watched syndicated shows throughout its seven-year run. Its great success caused many others to appear; by 1994 there were more than 20 one-hour syndicated shows.[3] When NBC cancelled Fame (1982 TV series) after only two seasons, the producers made special arrangements with LBS Communications, which resulted in MGM reviving the series for first-run syndication in the fall of 1983, where it continued for four more seasons, with the last first-run episode airing in the US on May 18, 1987. Friday the 13th: The Series (a horror series which shared its title with the successful movie franchise) also debuted in 1987. The next syndicated shows that debuted in 1988 were War of the Worlds and Freddy's Nightmares. Baywatch, which debuted in 1989 on NBC and was cancelled after one season also became one of the most watched syndicated shows throughout its ten-year-run, garnering a worldwide audience. Another series to be one of the few shows to nearly match Baywatch would be the television series Renegade. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was also syndicated. Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and its spin-off series Xena: Warrior Princess helped build the audiences for such shows; Babylon 5 and Forever Knight drew devoted "cult" audiences; Psi Factor and Poltergeist: The Legacy attempted to draw on the audience for the FOX series The X-Files (as did, even less probably, the short-lived spinoff Baywatch Nights). Among the other series were Relic Hunter and VIP, She Spies and Once a Thief. In 1997, Earth: Final Conflict, based on ideas from Gene Roddenberry, premiered in syndication. Three years later, a second Gene Roddenberry series, Andromeda also premiered in syndication. In 2008, Disney-ABC Domestic Television and ABC Studios teamed up with Sam Raimi to launch a new first-run syndicated TV series Legend of the Seeker, based on Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth novel series.

Shows featuring competition in one form or another, such as Star Search and American Gladiators, also enjoyed popularity in syndication around this time.

Animated series

Main articles: List of animated series created for syndication and Weekday cartoon

In the 1980s, independent stations signed on in medium and many small markets. The market for made-for-television cartoons grew as a result to include a branch for such stations. It usually had a greater artistic freedom, and looser standards (not mandated by a network).

The older Bugs Bunny and Popeye cartoons made way for first-run syndicated cartoons such as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Rambo: The Force of Freedom, ThunderCats, Dennis the Menace, My Little Pony, The Transformers, G.I. Joe, Voltron, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and reruns of Scooby Doo, Garfield and Friends, and The Pink Panther, among many others.

In 1987, The Walt Disney Company tried its luck at syndication; DuckTales went on the air that September and lasted 100 episodes. The success of DuckTales paved the way for a second series two years later, Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers. The following year, the two shows aired together under the umbrella title The Disney Afternoon. In 1991, Disney added another hour; the block aired in syndication until 1999.

These cartoons initially competed with the nationally broadcast ones. In the 1980s, National TV only aired Saturday mornings, not competing with the weekday and Sunday blocks of syndication aired by local independent stations but; however, by the 1990s, Fox and then WB started airing weekday afternoon blocks. By the end of the 1990s, both syndicated and national TV ended up losing most of its children's market to the rise of cable TV channels like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network which provided appealing children's entertainment throughout the week at nearly all hours.

Syndication remains a method of choice for distributing children's programming, although generally this is to satisfy the federally-mandated "educational-informational" (E/I) rule imposed in the late 1990s that requires stations to air three hours of educational children's programs every week, regardless of the station's format. Syndication is generally a less expensive option for a local station than to attempt to produce its own locally-originated E/I programming; not all networks provide E/I programs.

News programming and late-night talk shows

Also in the 1980s, news programming of various sorts began to be offered widely to stations. Independent Network News, which was produced at WPIX studios in New York City, was a half-hour weekdaily program that ran for several years on independent stations; CNN would offer a package of its Headline News to broadcast stations later, though it was used mainly to fill overnight time periods and was effectively discontinued in syndication with the 2006 launch of their "Prime" talk show block. Entertainment Tonight began its long and continuing run as a "soft" news daily strip, with a number of imitations following; and "tabloid" television, in the wake of ABC's 20/20 and, more immediately, FOX's A Current Affair, would become a syndication staple with such series as Extra and Real TV.

Another area where network dominance was challenged by syndicated programming in the 1980s was in late-night talk shows; The Arsenio Hall Show was the only very successful one, but Alan Thicke's earlier short-lived Thicke of the Night, Lauren Hutton's innovatively shot Lauren Hutton and..., and Dennis Miller, Whoopi Goldberg, David Brenner and Keenan Ivory Wayans attempted similar programs; Magic Johnson's The Magic Hour was seen as a massive flop. The popularity of syndicated talk shows fell dramatically in the mid-1990s as network and cable offerings expanded in the wake of Johnny Carson's retirement.

Reality and live-action children's shows

As UPN and the WB began offering their affiliates ever-more nights of prime time programming, less call has been felt for first-run drama, at least, in the U.S.; much as with the closing of windows that provided opportunity for Ziv in the 1950s and various producers in the early 1970s. The more expensive dramatic projects are less attractive to syndicators (particularly when they might be sold, with somewhat less risk, to cable channels); "reality" series such as Cheaters and Maximum Exposure and several series about dating stunts began to be more common in the early 2000s (decade). Some of the more low-key programs in this category were designed to appeal to children, such as Beakman's World, Animal Rescue and Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures. They were able to get significant clearance because of stricter Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforcement of rules on children's television series programming.

Game shows

Several game shows are currently syndicated; the most popular by far are Wheel of Fortune and the current version of Jeopardy!, both created by television personality Merv Griffin, premiering in 1983 and 1984 respectively. The shows have been 1-2 or 1-3 in the syndication ratings consistently since at least the late 1980s. In fact, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, Wheel is the most popular syndicated television program not only in the United States, but worldwide as well. Family Feud ended its first syndication run in 1985. Three years later, a revival was a moderate hit and continued for seven seasons. A third revival hit the airwaves in 1999 and has gone through four hosts. The first three hosts struggled in their respective runs and only lasted 3–4 years each but when Steve Harvey took over in 2010, ratings skyrocketed.

A Hollywood Squares revival also thrived beginning in 1998, running six seasons until its 2004 cancellation. By far the most successful entry into the market in the 2000s (decade) has been the daily version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, premiering in 2002.

Because game shows are very inexpensive to produce, with many episodes completed each day of production, successful ones are very profitable; for example, in 1988 Jeopardy! cost an estimated $5 million to produce but earned almost $50 million in revenue.[4] New game show concepts (that is, not based on an existing or pre-existing format) are rarely tried and usually unsuccessful in syndication; Street Smarts was somewhat of an exception. Between 2003 and 2007, no new games debuted in syndication, marking four consecutive seasons where no new game show debuted, a syndication first. The Fall 2007 debuts of Temptation and Merv Griffin's Crosswords helped stop that streak, bringing the daytime tally to six game shows; both ended production after one year, though Crosswords aired in reruns in some cities during the 2008-09 season before those reruns moved exclusively to cable.

More new shows were added for Fall 2008, including a daytime run of Deal or No Deal and an adaptation of the popular board game Trivial Pursuit. While Deal caught on and was renewed for the 2009-2010 season, Trivial Pursuit: America Plays suffered low ratings throughout its run and was canceled.

For the 2009-2010 season, the Fox game show Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? moved to syndication with a new, less expensive format. Don't Forget the Lyrics! followed for 2010-2011. Deal, suffering from falling ratings, was canceled in February 2010, with the final episodes airing in late May of that same year. 5th Grader and Don't Forget the Lyrics were cancelled the following year for the same reason (although 5th Grader remains airing in reruns on cable). Reruns of the popular Discovery Channel show Cash Cab began airing in syndication January 2011. The dating game show Baggage had a syndicated test run in early 2011, which preceded its full launch into syndication in fall 2012.

Stripped talk shows

The dominant form of first-run syndication in the U.S. for the last three decades has been the stripped talk show, such as Donahue, Oprah Winfrey, The Tyra Banks Show, and The Jerry Springer Show. As with game shows, talk shows are inexpensive to produce and very profitable if successful.[4] In many markets, a stripped show will be seen twice daily, usually with different episodes. Sometimes, station groups with more than one station in a market, or a "duopoly", will run one episode of a strip on one of their stations in the morning, and the other available episode on another of their stations that night.

Meanwhile, the popularity of some of the audience-participation talk shows continues to encourage new participants, some of whom, such as Morton Downey, Jr. and Rosie O'Donnell, have brief periods of impressive ratings and influence; others, such as Oprah Winfrey and Maury Povich, have a sustained run. A notable scheduling decision was made by KRON-TV in San Francisco. A 2000 dispute with NBC led to their disaffiliation from that network after 52 years, and since all the other larger networks were already represented in San Francisco, KRON decided to become one of the largest-market independent commercial stations on the VHF band in the U.S., and soon tried running Dr. Phil, a popular new stripped series hosted by Winfrey-associate Phil McGraw, in primetime, with impressive ratings results.

While in earlier times, independent TV stations thrived on syndicated programming (including some venerable and quite profitable stations such as KMSP in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market), with the loosening of FCC regulations and the creation of new additional TV networks (Fox, The CW, MyNetworkTV and ION Television), most of these independents have joined one or another of these or smaller (religious or low-budget) networks. In another case, like those of KCAL in Los Angeles, KMCI of Lawrence, Kansas-Kansas City and WBME-CD in Milwaukee, those independent stations are used to compliment their network affiliate sister station (KCBS, KSHB and WDJT, respectively) by allowing a duopoly control of more syndicated programming than would be possible on one station (and to spread it throughout the schedule of the two stations, often several times a day), or to air news programming in times unavailable on the larger network station. A duopoly of a network-independent station also allows a network station to move a low rated syndicated program to their sister independent channel to stem revenue losses.

The 2000s

Off-network syndication

Off-network syndication occurs when a network television show is syndicated in packages containing some or all episodes, and sold to as many television stations and markets as possible to be used in local programming time slots. In this manner, sitcoms are preferred and more successful because they are less serialized, and can be run non-sequentially, which is more beneficial and less costly for the station. In the United States, local stations now rarely broadcast reruns of primetime dramas; instead, they usually air on basic cable channels, which may air each episode 30 to 60 times.[5]

Syndication rights typically last for six consecutive showings of a series within three to five years.[6]

Syndication has been known to spur the popularity of a series that only experienced moderate success during its original network run. The most notable example of this is Star Trek, which ran for three seasons on NBC from 1966 to 1969, garnering only modest ratings, but became a worldwide cult phenomenon after it entered off-network syndication. Its success in syndication led to the Star Trek film series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and several other series.[7]:91–92

It is common for long-running series to have early seasons syndicated while the series itself is still in first-run network production. In order to differentiate between new and rebroadcast content, up until the 1980s it was not uncommon for series to be syndicated under a different title than originally broadcast. Examples include Bonanza (syndicated as Ponderosa), Gunsmoke (as Marshall Dillon), Emergency! (as Emergency One), Happy Days (as Happy Days Again), etc.

Syndication of older episodes can also increase exposure for a TV show that is still airing first-run network episodes. In the case of the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, its syndication, particularly on TBS, is one of the reasons attributed for a rise in first-run ratings for its sixth season. The sixth season episode "The Bakersfield Expedition", for example, was the first episode of that series to attract 20 million viewers.[8][9]

Strip/daily syndication

Off-network syndication can take several forms. The most common form is known as strip syndication or daily syndication, when episodes of a television series are shown daily five times a week in the same time slot. In the 1960s and 1970s, independent stations with no news staffs began viewing strip syndication as a necessary means of obtaining effective counterprogramming to the local news programs airing on network affiliates. Typically, this means that enough episodes must exist (88 episodes, or four seasons, is the usual minimum,[5] though many syndicators prefer a fully rounded 100 episodes) to allow for continual strip syndication to take place over the course of several months, without episodes being repeated. However, there are exceptions, such as the 65-episode block (common in children's programming), which allows for a 13-week cycle of daily showings, so there will only be four repeats in a year.

In some cases, more than one episode is shown daily. Half-hour sitcoms are sometimes syndicated in groups of two or four episodes, taking up one or two hours of broadcast time.

If a series is not strip syndicated, it may be aired once a week, instead of five times a week. This allows shows with fewer episodes to last long in syndication, but it also may mean viewers will tire of waiting a week for the next episode of a show they have already seen and stop watching. More often, hourlong dramas in their first several runs in syndication are offered weekly; sitcoms are more likely to get stripped. In recent years there has been something of a trend toward showing two consecutive episodes of a program on Saturday and Sunday nights after prime time (generally following the local news). This pattern has been particularly prominent for shows which are still in production but have run long enough to have many previous episodes available.

As with commercial stations, not all the air time nor all the perceived audience are met by the productions offered U.S. public-broadcasting stations by PBS; additionally, there are some independent public stations in the U.S. which take no programming from that (somewhat) decentralized network. As a result, there are several syndicators of programming for the non-profit stations, several of which are descendants of the regional station groups which combined some, not all, of their functions into the creation of PBS in 1969. American Public Television (APT) is the largest of these, nearly matched by NETA, the National Educational Telecommunications Association; similarly, the recently defunct Continental Program Marketing was another of the syndicator-descendants (of the Northeastern, Southeastern, and Rocky Mountain educational networks, respectively) of the pre-PBS era. Among the other notable organizations in the U.S. are Westlink Satellite Operations (based at Albuquerque's KNME), BBC Worldwide Americas (which often works with other distributors and individual stations, since it has no satellite access of its own in the U.S.), Deutsche Welle, Executive Program Services, the Program Resource Group and its member-station WLIW, Long Island, NY's PBS station, which is (with the arguable exception of KNME) the most prolific contributor of any individual station of syndicated programming, most obviously the BBC World News, Doctor Who and Monty Python's Flying Circus in the U.S.

Monetary Rates

In 1994, Universal became one of the first studios to cash in on the cable trend, selling reruns of Law & Order to A&E for about $155,000 an episode; in 1996, the studio got $275,000 from USA for repeats of New York Undercover, a far less successful show. Dick Wolf, who produces both, loves seeing L&O draw A&E's highest daytime ratings — one million viewers per episode.

Universal sold reruns of Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys to USA for $300,000 each. And even long-forgotten shows can find new life: The Nashville Network bought The Dukes of Hazzard library from Warner Bros. in 1997 for well over $10 million; not only did it improve the network's ratings, the show was also popular among younger viewers, a demographic TNN had a notorious difficulty in drawing. [10]

USA Network paid $750,000 for the rights to Walker, Texas Ranger. And while USA's Walker reruns draw an average of 2.3 million viewers — outstanding by cable standards — Perth says the show will need an enormous number of airings to have any sort of profitability."

DRAMATIC RETURNS: Rerun Prices at a Glance

Year Sold / Show / Studio / Cable Network / Price*

1986 / Falcon Crest / Warner Bros. / Turner Broadcasting / $10,000

1986 / Knots Landing / Warner Bros. / Turner Broadcasting / $12,000

1988 / Murder, She Wrote / Universal / USA / $525,000

1991 / Unsolved Mysteries / Buena Vista / Lifetime / $180,000

1993 / The Commish / ABC Productions / Lifetime / $195,000

1994 / Law & Order / Universal / A&E / $155,000

1995 / Melrose Place / Spelling / E! / $200,000

1995 / Picket Fences / Twentieth Century Fox / FX / $190,000

1995 / Lois & Clark / Warner Bros. / TNT / $275,000

1995 / Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman / MTM / Family Channel / $250,000

1995 / NYPD Blue / Twentieth Century Fox / FX / $400,000

1996 / Xena / Universal / USA / $300,000

1996 / Hercules / Universal / USA / $300,000

1996 / Chicago Hope / Twentieth Century Fox / Lifetime / $475,000

1996 / Homicide: Life on the Street / NBC Productions / Lifetime / $425,000

1996 / The X-Files / Twentieth Century Fox / FX / $600,000

1996 / Walker, Texas Ranger / Columbia TriStar / USA / $750,000

1996 / ER / Warner Bros. / TNT / $1.2 million

Sources: Industry sources and Paul Kagan Associates, Inc. Per episode [11]

Not all programs in syndication are sold for a fee. Less popular programming may be distributed by barter, in which the syndicator, instead of selling the show to a station, instead offers the show for free, with the caveat that the station give up its advertising time on other shows to the syndicator's advertisers. Barter syndication, in addition to the cost advantage, is popular because of its flexibility; a station can typically pick up a barter syndicated program for only a few weeks or months, without the long-term financial commitment of a traditional syndicated series, allowing the station to plug the show into its lineup to fill a hole in the schedule.

Radio syndication

Radio syndication generally works the same way as television syndication, except that radio stations usually are not organized into strict affiliate-only networks. Radio networks generally are only distributors of radio shows, and individual stations (though often owned by large conglomerates) decide which shows to carry from a wide variety of networks and independent radio providers. As a result, radio networks such as Dial Global or Premiere Networks, despite their influence in broadcasting, are not as recognized among the general public as television networks like CBS or ABC. (Many of these distributors ally themselves with TV networks; Dial Global, for instance, is allied with NBC, while Premiere is allied with Fox.) Some examples of widely syndicated commercial broadcasting music programs include weekly countdowns like Rick Dees' Weekly Top 40, the American Top 40, American Country Countdown with Kix Brooks, Canada's Top 20 Countdown, the Canadian Hit 30 Countdown and the nightly program, Delilah, heard on many U.S. stations.

Syndication is particularly popular in talk radio. While syndicated music shows (with the exception of some evening and overnight shows such as Delilah mentioned above) tend to air once a week and mostly recorded, most popular talk radio programs are syndicated daily and live. Also, with relatively few 24-hour live talk radio networks (though this, in recent times, has been changing), most radio stations are free to assemble their own lineup of talk show hosts as they so choose. Examples of syndicated talk programs are Premiere Networks' The Bob & Tom Show, Dial Global's The Jim Bohannon Show, and the self-syndicated The Dave Ramsey Show. (More recently, talk networks such as Talk Radio Network have been marketing and packaging all-day lineups, marking a departure from the syndication model. As such, popular shows such as Cumulus Media Networks' The Savage Nation and Premiere's The Rush Limbaugh Show now air as part of a broader network lineup in many markets, particularly on Premiere owned and operated stations, though they continue to be syndicated to non-network stations as well.) Talk syndication tends to be more prevalent because voice tracking, a practice used by many music stations to have disc jockeys host multiple supposedly local shows at once, is not feasible with live talk radio.

National Public Radio, Public Radio International, and American Public Media all sell programming to local member stations in the U.S., most of which are subsidized through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting but operated by private nonprofit organizations, universities, state or local governments. This is in contrast to centralized public radio networks in other countries (such as Canada's CBC and the United Kingdom's BBC) that own and operate all of their stations as arms of the national government and run them as a strict network. (From 1948 to 2013, the United States had a strict anti-propaganda law, the Smith–Mundt Act, that prohibited broadcasting government-owned networks such as Voice of America to American audiences. The law was mostly repealed in 2013, but distribution of VOA or other federally produced radio programming is still rare.) Two independently produced, non-commercial syndicated programs, heard on hundreds of community radio and indie radio stations, are Alternative Radio and Pacifica's Democracy Now!.

Some (in fact, most) radio programs are also offered on a barter system usually at no charge to the radio station. The system is used for live programming or preproduced programs and include a mixture of ad time sold by the program producer as well as time set aside for the radio station to sell.


Before radio networks matured in the United States, some early radio shows were reproduced on transcription disks and mailed to individual stations. An example of syndication using this method was RadiOzark Enterprises, Inc. based in Springfield, Missouri, co-owned with KWTO. The Assembly of God, with national headquarters in Springfield, sponsored a half-hour program on the station called Sermons in Song. RadiOzark began transcribing the show for other stations in the 1940s, and eventually 200 stations carried the program. The company later produced country music programs starring among others, Smiley Burnette, George Morgan, Bill Ring and Tennessee Ernie Ford (260 15-minute episodes of The Tennessee Ernie Show were distributed), and more than 1,200 U.S. and Canadian stations aired the programs.[12]

Many syndicated radio programs were distributed through the US mail or other delivery service, although the medium changed as technology developed, going from transcription disks to phonograph records, tape recordings, cassette tapes and eventually CDs. Many smaller weekend programs still use this method to this day, though with the rise of the Internet, many stations have since opted to distribute programs via CD-quality MP3s through FTP downloads.

It was not until the advent of satellite communications in the 1980s that live syndication became popular (though it could be transmitted through network lines, it was not particularly common because of cost, network congestion and quality issues). Since then, most syndicated radio programs are distributed using satellite subcarrier audio technology. Shortly after satellite networks such as RKO, Transtar and SMN began, the Fairness Doctrine was repealed, which is credited with helping Rush Limbaugh become the first national talk radio superstar. At the same time, the FCC began issuing more FM radio licenses to suburban and rural areas in the late 1980s, which allowed more room for music stations on the FM dial; radio formats such as country music that were traditionally AM fixtures even after most pop and rock music moved to FM were now moving to FM as well, leaving much more room for talk formats on the AM dial. As the 1990s went on, Dr. Laura and Howard Stern began their national shows, rising to become national icons. The Telecommunications Act of 1996, which led to significant concentration of media ownership, facilitated the rapid deployment of both existing and new syndicated programs in the late 1990s, putting syndication on par with, and eventually surpassing, the network radio format.

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, syndicated talk radio saw a notably rapid rise in popularity, as networks rushed new national shows into syndication to meet the demand for discussion of national issues. Many of these, such as Laura Ingraham, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, were mostly supportive of the actions of the Republican-led government; a few others, such as Alex Jones, were openly critical of the government's actions and motives. After the Democrats took control in the late 2000s, the gap between the two styles narrowed due to the mutual opposition of both camps to the government's actions, which allowed Jones greater clearance on stations.

In contrast to conservative talk radio, which has predominantly been driven by syndication, progressive talk radio has almost always been (with some exceptions such as the current version of The Randi Rhodes Show) a network-driven model. The incompatibility of conservative and progressive ideologies and the lack of syndicated progressive hosts required solutions that could produce all-day programming to individual stations. It was not until Air America Radio launched in 2004 that progressive talk would become viable; though it failed several years later, Dial Global now carries a network slate that is carried on most progressive talk stations. Sports radio is likewise mostly a network phenomenon, partially because the irregular nature of sports pre-emptions makes having a full-time network to be able to cut into and join in progress at any time highly convenient.

Syndicated radio is not as popular in other parts of the world. Canada has a few independently syndicated shows, but the bulk of syndicated content there comes from the United States, and the sum total of syndicated programming is far less than most American stations, as Canadian stations rely more heavily on local content. Most other countries still follow the network radio model.

International syndication

Syndication also applies to international markets. Same language countries often syndicate programs to each other- such as programs from the United Kingdom being syndicated to Australia and vice versa. Another example would be programs from the United Kingdom, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina being syndicated to local TV stations in the United States, and programs from the United States being syndicated elsewhere in the world.

One of the best-known internationally syndicated television series has been The Muppet Show, which was produced in the United Kingdom and shown on ITV, and appeared around the world, including the United States, where it aired in syndication, and Canada, where CBC Television aired the show. The 1970s was a time when many British comedies, including The Benny Hill Show and Monty Python's Flying Circus were syndicated to the United States and worldwide. Many soaps and long-running series are also successfully syndicated around the globe.

The hit television show CSI earned $1.6 million per episode in its first round of cable syndication. There were many different versions of the show making it an international success. It was already popular in the U.S., so becoming a success internationally as well as within the U.S. made syndication sensible. Whether a series is produced in the U.S. or not is based on the economic value and potential viability of its sales internationally with the possibility of syndication.[13]

Economic factors that influence production outside the U.S. play a major role in deciding if a television show will be syndicated, internally and internationally. International syndication has sustained a growing of prosperity and monetary value amongst the distributors who sell to them. Due to a rise in competition, syndicators have upheld high standards for different countries to buy the rights to distribute shows. During the 1990s poor ratings were popular amongst syndicated shows, but distributors still made it possible for international competition to happen and buy U.S. shows.[14]

Colombian, Brazilian, Mexican and Venezuelan telenovelas are programmed throughout the Portuguese and Spanish-speaking world, and in many parts of India, China and Europe.

U.S.-style syndication internationally

Because of the structural differences discussed above, there are presently very few areas where a true U.S.-style syndication model operates, whereby programs are sold on a per-area basis (within a single country) to local or regional stations with differing (or no) network affiliations.

Canada was historically one of the few exceptions. Until the mid-1990s, TV stations in Canada, like those in the U.S., were typically run as separate local operations, with a small number of moderately-sized ownership groups such as Baton, CanWest, WIC, and CHUM. Those stations that were affiliated with a national network, i.e. CBC or CTV, did not always receive a full schedule of programming from that network.

At this time, it was not uncommon for U.S. syndicators to treat Canada as an extension of their domestic syndication operations, for both their first-run and off-network offerings. This is still the case for American radio programs; Canadian radio networks are not assembled as rigidly into networks (except for the CBC's radio division). However, an alternate form of first-run syndication was performed by some domestic broadcasters: as the Canadian rights to U.S. primetime series were often acquired by individual station groups (as opposed to full-fledged national networks), they would in turn resell local rights for those programs to stations in areas where they didn't operate.

Since the late 1990s, as most stations have been consolidated into national networks consisting almost entirely of owned-and-operated stations and with full-day network schedules, both types of syndication have largely disappeared from the Canadian broadcast landscape. Programs that are sold in syndication in the U.S. are now generally sold to national Canadian networks to air across all their stations, with per-market sales now being very rare. The Oprah Winfrey Show appears to have been the last significant holdout to this model (prior to its 2011 conclusion), having aired primarily on CTV stations, but in some markets airing instead on a Global station, and even some CBC affiliates.

Regional syndication

There are three key reasons why a radio station will decide to pick up a syndicated show- unique and difficult to replicate content, ratings track record, and celebrity host.

New developing radio programs are generally able to claim one of these attributes, but not all three. Regional syndication attempts to replace these benchmark attributes with other benefits that are generally recognized by the industry as also being important. Given the financial downturn within the industry, the need for quality cost effective locally relevant programming is greater than ever before. Programs that offer regionally specific content while providing the economic benefits of syndication can be especially appealing to potential affiliates. Regional syndication can also be more attractive to area advertisers who share a common regional trading area versus assembling a radio network of stations that hopscotch across the USA.

See also



  • The Museum of Broadcast Communications
  • Television Obscurities - The Syndicated Season: 1987-1988
  • C21 Media - daily news about the TV business
  • Syndication TV
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