Greg Meidel, the head of My Network TV who now adds Twentieth Television to his portfolio, faces a very different syndication business than the one he knew a few years ago. He says the key will be to take some of the financial weight off stations’ backs by spreading the costs of new syndicated fare across other media: “It allows you to monetize it on these different platforms and the end result is you get a better television show.”
“I’m sure it’s even more fun the second time around,” says Greg Meidel in the wake of the Monday’s announcement that he would succeed Bob Cook as the president of Twentieth Television.
The syndication business is a lot different than it was during Meidel’s first time around that included high-level assignments at Twentieth, Universal (before it merged with NBC) and CBS Paramount Domestic Television.
Under enormous financial stress due to the economy and increasing competition, TV stations are pushing back hard on syndication license fees and long-term commitments.
The days of big deals greased by big parties at NATPE are a thing of the past.
The fun factor aside, Meidel says he is well aware of what’s going on in syndication and broadcasting by virtue of his other job running My Network TV for the past couple of years. Since its debut in September 2006, MNT has morphed from a broadcast network full of original programming to an outlet for syndicated shows.
“We’re not going to force a [first-run] show on the air just to prove that we can launch a show,” he says. “I’ve lived through that era. That is over. It’s not about showing who has the most shows on the air. It’s about creating programs that create value for both Twentieth Television and the stations who buy them.”
And understanding broadcasters’ reluctance to pay hefty license fees, Meidel says Twentieth may also be able to take some of the financial weight off their backs by spreading costs across other media.
“A multiplatform launch is the wave of the future where you have exclusive windows for broadcast, for cable, for online or whatever,” he says. “It allows you to monetize it on these different platforms and the end result is you get a better television show.”
One example he cites is Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?. This fall, it will be seen in broadcast syndication as well as on MNT as part of its Tuesday night game show lineup.
Meidel says he is going to focus on first-run and may offer stations new shows for fall 2010 if it can identify the opportunity — that is, good stations and good time periods.
Much will depend, of course, on Twentieth’s in-house launch platform, the Fox O&O stations, which are also owned by News Corp., he says. “What they are looking for also plays into this, too. I mean, they are our biggest buyer.”
Overall, Meidel says broadcasters will probably have fewer first-run options for 2010 than they have had in the past. “But a lot of those were deal driven and weren’t really about maybe the best television shows that should get on the air.”
One possibility for a national rollout is Twentieth’s Wedlock or Deadlock, which is in the first month of a trial run on seven Fox stations.
Meidel says he is encouraged by the initial response to the show, in which a counselor advises couples on whether they should get married or get out of each others lives. “The early results before the polls close looked pretty good.”
Meidel likes the idea of trial runs where Twentieth has “a firm grip on the costs” of the show. Such trials limit the downside of the syndicator, he says. And if a show works, stations can sign on knowing they have a proven product. “You’ve seen that with [Debmar-Mercury’s] Tyler Perry’s House of Pain.”
But the trial approach won’t work for big-budget show with big-name talent, he says. Such projects still require big commitments and risk by all involved.
Meidel believes that the troubles of TV stations will eventually abate and they will be more willing to take such chances.
“The stations are going to become lean and mean and their margins will go back up,” he says. “I don’t know if they’ll be what they used to be, but they’ll still be very, very good businesses.”
While contemplating new first-run show for 2010 and beyond, Meidel will also be managing a large stable or other first-run and off-network programming, including 5th Grader, Divorce Court, Judge Alex, Family Guy, 24, COPS, The Simpsons, Boston Legal, My Name is Earl, Bones, The Unit and How I Met Your Mother.
Earl and Bones make their broadcast syndication debut this fall.
And in the new job, Meidel will continue to oversee MNT — and talk it up.
“We’ve had a very good season in a very difficult advertising climate,” he says. “For the year, we’re up about 40 percent in households, we’re at 25 percent in adults 18 to 49, we’re a top 10 network with adults 18 to 49 in primetime and we’ve consistently beat the CW. Not that that’s our goal, but I’d rather beat them than not beat them.”
Meidel thinks MNT has an edge over CW because it’s putting on fresh programming 52 weeks a year. “Now that the top local markets have peoplemeters, the fact that you can perform out of sweeps at the same level as you perform in sweeps is critical,” he says. “If I’m an advertiser and I’m selling package goods in the month of August and it’s out of sweeps, I still want to know that I’m getting real value for the time that I’m buying.”
Meidel says that the network will continue to look for original shows for the network. But off-network dramas like Law & Order: Criminal Intent and The Unit, which are now the backbone of the network, have a lot going for them.
“They don’t require as much advertising and marketing support because it is a branded show that people know from day one.”