Internet program distribution is changing TV syndication

A few years ago, only the most successful network programs were candidates for syndication. Normally, producers had to wait four seasons—to the magic number of 100 episodes—to have a chance at the big bucks syndication produced. Now, the Internet ...
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A few years ago, only the most successful network programs were candidates for syndication. Normally, producers had to wait four seasons—to the magic number of 100 episodes—to have a chance at the big bucks syndication produced.

Now, the Internet has changed that. In a story this week in the “Los Angeles Times,” the newspaper reported that even shows with modest ratings are now candidates for syndication over Internet television services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon.

A few years ago, only the most successful network programs were candidates for syndication. Normally, producers had to wait four seasons—to the magic number of 100 episodes—to have a chance at the big bucks syndication produced.

Now, the Internet has changed that. In a story this week in the “Los Angeles Times,” the newspaper reported that even shows with modest ratings are now candidates for syndication over Internet television services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon.

The “Times” reported that television production studio executives have long have been wary of Internet distribution, fearing it would lead to increased piracy and destroy lucrative secondary markets, including syndication and DVD sales.

But that hasn’t happened. The Internet services are now injecting new revenue into the TV business and breathing new life into shows with only modest ratings.

“The introduction of the subscription video-on-demand platform has broadened the opportunities for exploitation of product in a very positive way for consumers and studios,” Ken Werner, president of Warner Bros. domestic television distribution, told the newspaper. “You do not need to accumulate 100 episodes of a series because 40 hours of programming is a lot, so many of these shows work perfectly well on these new services.”

A prime candidate for early syndication is NBC’s “Community,” a comedy with modest ratings of about four million viewers an episode. A few years ago, syndication for such a show would have been unthinkable. But earlier this month, the online video service Hulu announced that it was acquiring the Internet rights to Community, which is co-produced by Sony Pictures Television and NBC Universal.

Comedy Central, owned by Viacom Inc., also has been in talks to license reruns of Community. That syndication deal, if consummated, could convince NBC to bring back the show, which costs about $2 million an episode to produce, for a fourth season. The reason: it appeals a young, computer-connected audience.

In Nov., Netflix announced that it planned to restart production of another viewer favorite, Fox’s Arrested Development, which won an Emmy for best comedy but lasted just three seasons before being canceled in 2006. Netflix was drawn to the series because of its young, affluent fan base.

Scott Koondel, distribution president for CBS Television Distribution, told the Times that the proliferation of mobile devices, including smart phones and digital tablets, also has helped to invigorate the market.

“People want to consume television in different ways and there are now so many different platforms,” Koondel said. “We have more places to market our shows. These opportunities weren’t available to us two or three years ago.”