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Syndication at Present…and Beyond (part 1)

Stability, Durability and the Return of Judge Joe Brown

Mirroring any typical season in first-run syndication (and quoting the late game show host Allen Ludden) the password at present is…”Durability”.

In this first of our 12-part series on syndication highlighting news of note as we approach the start of NATPE 2019, we will discuss macro trends such as TV station consolidation, changing broadcast strategies and digital extensions of existing business models. We’ll also touch on trends such as declining cable subscribers, expanding streaming platforms, on-demand viewing and increased subscribers to skinny bundles. All these have contributed to changes in the syndication model, and we will keep you abreast of any additional announcements that will affect this season’s syndicated offerings.

No area in broadcasting is exempt from these nearly inevitable changes, which are best described as an evolution. But, unlike the network and cable landscape, where the shelf-life for an established series (excluding exceptions like “The Big Bang Theory,” “Law & Order: SVU,” newsmagazines and reality/competition) is five to eight seasons, first-run syndication is famous for its shows’ reaching as far as the three-decade mark. And, because an estimated 94 percent of the audience still consumes its content live in daytime, syndication is in a protected bubble or sorts. If you miss one episode of one of these strips on one particular day, you can always watch the next one that comes along.

“There is a certain level of comfort for these first-run and off-network syndicated series,” noted media analyst Brad Adgate. “And this breeding ground of familiarity does give syndication an advantage going in as the overall viewing experience continues to become more fractionalized.”

“The distributors know exactly who the target audience is, which is a real advantage for an advertiser looking to reach a specific demographic,” he added. “And relative consistency via the traditional Nielsen ratings is the overall pattern this season to-date.”

The Rich Stay Rich in Syndication

Through October 28, 2018, “Judge Judy” from CBS Television Distribution – CTD (7.0 household rating), “Family Feud” from Debmar-Mercury (6.1), and “Entertainment Tonight” and “Inside Edition” (2.9), both from CTD, lead their respective genres, each with ratings on par from the comparable year-ago period, according to Nielsen. Another veteran, “Dr. Phil” from CTD, is also firmly entrenched as the leader in talk at a 2.9 in households.

Other established strips, including “Wheel of Fortune,” “Jeopardy!,” “Live with Kelly & Ryan” and “Ellen DeGeneres” are all close to year-ago levels. Translation: the rich remain rich in first-run syndication. And the stability this season only magnifies the importance of the platform for respective advertisers. It matters, and you do not always find it elsewhere.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week and motor full speed ahead into the holiday season, we will ultimately convene in January in sunny Miami Beach for the annual NATPE Market and Conference. NATPE, of course, stands for National Association of Television Program Executives. And the gathering, a staple for anyone in the business of syndication, is still a haven for pitching new syndicated product.

One such name among the new mix of offerings the year is both a familiar and trusted voice, only this time he’s switching from court to talk in the weekly “Hot Topics with Judge Joe” from Pacific Lake Entertainment. Described as a fast-paced and compelling arena for banter and debate, everyone’s favorite male court show judge and the longest African American individual in that role, is ready for a new challenge.

Next week, in part two, we discuss what lies ahead for the new class of wannabe entries (including Judge Joe’s show) and why new syndicated talk, and the return of an established presence in daytime still matters and will matter for the foreseeable future.

Happy Thanksgiving!