Sony Pictures Television is gearing up to pitch stations on Seinfeld‘s fourth broadcast cycle, 14 years after its syndication debut.
Fourteen years after debuting in broadcast syndication, Seinfeld is getting a timely promotional boost from the ongoing reunion storyline on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. It comes just as Sony Pictures Television is gearing up to pitch stations on Seinfeld’s fourth broadcast cycle, set to begin in March 2011.
“We’ll talk to stations in the near future,” says John Weiser, president of U.S. distribution at SPT. “We don’t have a specific date. We are looking at the timing right now about what makes sense.”
Seinfeld’s continued standing as a top-5 off-net sitcom puts Sony in a good position for another cycle even without the renewed interest the Curb arc has generated.
The show still has a loyal fan base, despite having made its NBC primetime debut nearly two decades ago. Seinfeld finished its network run in 1998 as primetime’s No. 1 show.
Other evidence of its staying power was the Oct. 4 airing of Curb that brought the Seinfeld foursome back together again. The episode generated the show’s biggest audience in more than five years, with 1.6 million people tuning in.
Last season, in broadcast syndication, Seinfeld was the No. 3 off-net sitcom. It pulled a 3.4 household rating, trailing only Warner Bros.’ Two and a Half Men (4.7) and Twentieth Television’s Family Guy (3.8). However, Seinfeld did slip from a 3.8 in 2007-08 and a 4.3 in 2006-07.
This season, viewership has dipped again, but the show is holding its own.
For the week ending Oct. 4, Seinfeld was No. 4 with a 2.5 in households, based on national ratings, finishing behind Men’s 4.7, Family’s 3.4 and The Office’s 2.8.
Although The Office slipped by it, Seinfeld managed to outperform the two other sitcoms new to broadcast syndication this season. Twentieth’s My Name is Earl scored a 1.7, while CBS Television Distribution’s Everybody Hates Chris had a 1.4.
Also working in Seinfeld’s favor is that network TV isn’t exactly teeming with hit sitcoms that are in the pipeline for broadcast syndication.
“When you’re still a top-5 show, durability is going to come into play as stations make choices,” says Bill Carroll, vice president and director of programming at Katz Television Group. “There are few shows on the near horizon that will supplant what Seinfeld is doing.”
Seinfeld may be the most lucrative program in broadcast syndication history, reaping billions in revenue for Sony over the years, much of it from license fees from broadcasters. In the last cycle, the show was sold on a cash-plus-barter (5.5/1 minute) basis.
In this economy, even hit shows with fresh content like NBC Universal’s 30 Rock are being sold into broadcast syndication on an all-barter, no-cash basis.
“As much as we love and celebrate Seinfeld, these conversations will probably more difficult in this environment than they would be otherwise,” says Bill Butler, vice president of programming and promotion at Sinclair Broadcast Group, which currently runs Seinfeld on 17 of its stations.
Weiser isn’t saying how much Sony will ask stations to pay for Seinfeld in its fourth cycle, but he recognizes that the TV marketplace, and Seinfeld’s place in it, has changed.
“When it comes time, when we sit down with television stations, we’ll talk about the type of business model that supports them,” he says. “Then, we’ll build a deal that reflects the marketplace.”