While a number of stations and groups are eschewing syndicated programming for locally produced shows, the next step, some feel, is working together. “Scripps is doing their thing; Raycom is doing their thing — why can’t we craft shows together?” asked Tribune Media’s Sean Compton during a NATPE panel. “I think that’s the next step.”
Television station groups have been having some success the past few years with original productions such as Scripps’s live 4 p.m. newsmagazine The Now and studio-station partnerships such as Raycom Media’s and Bellum’s recently renewed Fix It & Finish It and Flip My Food. This fall, Tribune Media and Warner Bros. are partnering on syndicated show Crime Watch Daily. The next trend in station group originals is shows created by multiple groups.
“Scripps is doing their thing; Raycom is doing their thing — why can’t we craft shows together?” said Sean Compton, president of strategic programming and acquisitions at Tribune Media. “I think that’s the next step in this. Right now, we’re all competing with each other. But, if we launched shows together, we could probably get more shows out there.”
Compton spoke on the Tuesday NATPE panel “Will Local TV’s Do-It-Yourself Programmers Upend the Status Quo?” alongside Ken Reiner, VP of programming at Raycom Media and Robert Sullivan, VP of programming at Scripps. TVNewsCheck Editor Harry Jessell moderated the panel.
One such multi-group partnership, Right This Minute, is largely responsible for jumpstarting stations’ increasing number of original productions. That show from Cox Media, E.W. Scripps and Raycom Media, in which a panel of co-hosts chat other about online videos, is now in its fourth season, including on stations owned by Fox Television Stations.
“We think [station group] partnerships are the future,” said Reiner. “We all have very similar needs.”
Stations also have valuable time periods they want more control over.
“Since 2010, our mantra has been that, when real estate opens on our stations, we look for business opportunities to control our destiny, either with total control or with partners,” said Sullivan. “Our most valuable real estate is our real estate. Until 2010, we were essentially handing those time periods over to studios to program for us.”
Scripps has been on the forefront of originals, including the newsmagazine-style The List, which it airs in a few markets. The Now has news anchors standing and casually chatting about stories in the news. That show airs live at 4 p.m. in eight Scripps markets with a ninth market likely to be added this year.
“The List and The Now are not meant to be nationally syndicated shows,” said Sullivan. “They are meant to serve our needs.”
Scripps has also been rolling out game show Let’s Ask America to more stations. Scripps originally created that show in partnership with Warner Bros.’ Telepictures. That show and The List in some markets replaced CBS Television Distribution’s Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.
“We sat down as a company,” Sullivan said. “We said: ‘Are we better off rolling out these shows for another five years? Or is this an opportunity to control our destiny?’ We took the latter route.”
More recently, station group Hearst snatched away Warner Bros.’ talk show Ellen from Scripps.
“We lost Ellen in several markets in the snap of two fingers,” Sullivan said. “We again sat down and wondered if we were better off buying another syndicated show or using this as an opportunity to develop our own show. We ended up developing The Now.”
Tribune Media’s Compton said his group is creating shows in some cases to avoid locking into long-term deals with studios that can go sour.
“Some sitcoms can go up to seven years,” he said. “There was a sitcom that had the potential to go for 11 years. It’s scary to me that we’re doing deals that have that long of a tail. I don’t want to live with eight or nine years of hell from my boss.
“If we develop a show and it’s a disaster, we’ll just say, ‘It wasn’t what we expected,’ ” he said. “We have plenty of second runs of sitcoms or we can add more news to fill the hole.”
Of course, original productions are often far less costly than highly polished studio shows. The trade off, though, is that ratings for originals are sometimes far lower than those of studio-produced shows.
The speakers on the “Do-It-Yourself Programmers” panel didn’t divulge specifics of costs and profitability, but they suggested originals can be more profitable than studio shows.
“[Studio] shows get more expensive as they go along,” Compton said. “With [originals], our ratings might go down a little bit. But we’re far more profitable now. We have to make intelligent decisions.”
There is also a financial benefit of producing originals in that content can be used and monetized on multiple platforms, said Raycom’s Reiner. “We are looking to create value in our daytime lineups on multiple platforms like sponsorship opportunities — product placement,” he said.
Station groups can also generate revenue by selling the show to other station groups, like Cox, Scripps and Raycom have done with Right This Minute.
Meantime, station-group-produced originals and studio-station partnerships are expanding. Gannett, for example, is developing shows with Debmar-Mercury.