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Syndication 2017: The Rich Stay Rich, but Opportunities Still Exist for Newbies

'Sheriffs El Dorado' Capitalizes on a Proven Format on the Weekend

Unlike the glut of original scripted programs in primetime – an estimated 500 titles, a new record, are expected in 2017 on the combination of broadcast, cable and the digital outlets – new shows vying for national clearances in syndication at the upcoming National Association of Television Program Executives conference (aka NATPE) are actually few and far between. This should be no surprise, of course. Given the durability of first-run strips like “Judge Judy,” “Wheel of Fortune,” “Jeopardy,” “Dr. Phil,” “Entertainment Tonight” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” not to mention the weekend options, there are just so many time periods to go around.

But this does not mean there are no potential opportunities for the next generation of hits in syndication, particularly a concept with proven “legs” in an established category.

More Long-Term Successes in First-Run Syndication Than Any Other Platform

Year after year, decade after decade, the “password” in syndication is…durable. Naturally, the goal for any pending entry is to capitalize on one of the proven genres — talk, game, court, magazine or reality – with the appropriate content. Done right, the payoff, both in first-run strips and first-run weeklies, can be the type of staying power you do not normally see in any other broadcasting sector.

Unlike broadcast and cable, now also competing with the estimated 130 scripted series coming up on the digital streamers this year, stability by the numbers in syndication for the most part this season is an inherent selling point for any distributor in search of clearances.

“The greatest advantage about the syndication landscape, perhaps, is the loyalty by the audience,”
said Bill Carroll, Senior Vice President – Director of Content Strategy at Katz Television Group. “Viewers are accustomed to certain types of shows, and once they make a commitment to it to shelf -life can be unlimited. This makes the ties to the non-linear world less severe.”

“Syndication is often used to effectively subsidize an advertising buy,” added Billie Gold, VP, Director Programming Research, Amplify (a division of Dentsu Aegis). “These offerings are familiar to the available audience, which is why they tend to last so long. And the distributors know exactly who to target, which is a real advantage for an advertiser looking to reach a specific demographic. You don’t always have this specific insight elsewhere.”

NATPE in 2017

Of course, the NATPE of today is no longer just an outlet for stations, and groups, to acquire syndicated programming. The focus has shifted in great part to new media and technology, both domestically and internationally. And the over-indulgence of yesteryear (how can we forget those mile-long booths and the grand parties?) has been replaced with a more cost-effective atmosphere. But station execs will certainly be on hand in search of new product. There is still no better arena to meet and greet, and conduct business where the right new show, in the appropriate genre, can capitalize on the potential long shelf-life.

So, what new series are hoping to build some momentum at NATPE?

Vying for Clearances

In the first-run strip department, we have “Page Six TV,” based on the iconic gossip-themed page in the New York Post, which will return to Fox Television Stations (among other potential clearances) following last summer’s three week-test run. Orion Television will premiere “Couples Court,” a new syndicated, half-hour weekday strip from David Armour, the creator and executive producer of Orion’s “Lauren Lake’s Paternity Court.” The series will feature legal experts and trial attorneys Dana and Keith Cutler as the first-ever married couple to preside over the television courtroom where couples in crisis come to share their stories of cheating. Proposed court strip “Palin Rules,” presided over by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, is also still in contention.

A potential one-hour talker from Warner Bros. hosted by Drew Barrymore that began generating buzz last spring has now been put on hold until fall 2018. That is it at the moment.

On the weekend front, the options include magic-themed “Don’t Blink” from Associated Television International; Bellum trio “Great Escapes,” “Mysteries of the Unexplained,” and “Originals,” which explores the remarkable origin of hundreds of the world’s most influential creations; “Hollywood Uncut” from Telco, which profiles talent from the land of Tinseltown; and “Sherriffs El Dorado County” from production company Foothill 7 TV.

A New but Proven Option

Already in its 3rd successful season on Fox affiliate KTXL in Sacramento, “Sheriffs El Dorado County” (aka “Sheriffs EDC”) taps into the public fascination with crime and punishment, albeit with a bit of a twist. “Sheriffs EDC” is filmed and edited in true cinema verite style, showing the entire call, up close and personal, through the eyes of the deputy, from intake to final determination.

Foothill 7 TV has filmed over 100 of the sheriff office’s deputies performing their duties in order to allow the region to observe transparently the job the El Dorado County Sheriff’s office performs daily as they cover their beats. From Lake Tahoe to the original Gold Rush goldfields to the Sacramento line, the audience gets to know each deputy and observe their performance under constantly changing conditions. Given the nightly news reports of various individuals and groups targeting police officers across the country, and the dangers and condemnation each deputy faces, “Sheriffs EDC” allows the viewer to make a determination, based on the facts and their knowledge of the deputy being highlighted.

“People like to witness the process of justice being served, the rough and tumble, chasing down, the handcuffing and ultimate arrest,” said Rob Russo, President of RNR Media Consulting. “These people like to see people who break the law get arrested and get their due. It is that simple. And this is a show, plain and simple, that will serve that growing interest.”

A Key Advantage

Unlike other newbies that enter the marketplace from scratch, the inherent advantage of “Sheriffs EDC” is the documented success, both on Sacramento’s KTXL; and its six-week test run (in March and April, 2016) on 10 additional stations. Now a mainstay on KTXL, “Sheriffs EDC” has been dominant, to-date, in three time periods: Saturday 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., and Sunday 6 p.m. It has built from its news lead-in. And it has enjoyed demographic success in multiple time periods (and against various off-network sitcoms and non-scripted series).

In the 10-market test, “Sheriffs EDC” (despite facing March Madness on NCAA Basketball) exhibited gains throughout the six weeks. Growth in the metered market households, on average, was 21 percent, according to Nielsen. It also outperformed the April 2015 time period average, including a massive 279 increase in household rating on WTTO in Birmingham. And it delivered a competitive audience in every market, proving the value of the police-reality format.

“This is a one camera shoot; there is no cutting back, which adds to the intensity of the show,”
noted Leigh White, Vice President and General Manager of KTXL. “Sheriffs El Dorado has been a solid draw demographically across the board for us, capitalizing on the success all these years of “Cops.” It truly is a great show to have on my station.”

As justice continues to be served, weekend syndication will have a new member in the category in 2017, “Sheriffs El Dorado County.” And stations in the fall of 2018 will also have the option to run it as a strip.

Move over, “Cops.” “Sheriffs EDC” is now on the job.