Cable Marathons Wrecking ‘Modern Family’

Ted Stephens, VP-GM of KCWI-KDMI Des Moines-Ames, Iowa, to Twentieth Television: "As a broadcaster I am incensed by how you sold our industry down the river. The double standard you demonstrated in the terms of the syndication rights to Modern Family for cable and broadcasting is nothing short of unethical."

To: Twentieth Television

From: Ted Stephens, VP and general manager, KCWI-KDMI Des Moines-Ames, Iowa (CW-MNT, DMA 72).

“As a broadcaster I am incensed by how you sold our industry down the river. The double standard you demonstrated in the terms of the syndication rights to Modern Family for cable and broadcasting is nothing short of unethical. 

“On Thanksgiving Day, the USA Network ran Modern Family continuously from noon to midnight — 12 hours. It followed that up with four hours on Friday, three and a half hours on Saturday, four on Tuesday and two on Wednesday. That’s 25 and a half hours in a single week.

“There are 96 episodes of Modern Family available in syndication. Over those seven days, the USA ran 51 on them — or 53% of those available.

“My contract for the show reads: “Each week shall be comprised of up to twelve (12) half-hour episodes to be delivered for broadcast Monday through Sunday” In other words, broadcasters are limited to six hours per week.


“When I asked my representative from your company why the blatant disparity between my deal and that of the USA, he said, ‘we got a ton of money from USA.’ I’m sure you did, but at what expense?

“The over-exposure of the program on the USA will burn out the show within a year for both cable and broadcasting.

“The marathon runs of the show have made it easy for viewers to DVR the entire 96 episodes in just a couple of weeks. What good does that do either cable or broadcast? 

“I’m certain, when combined, the broadcast rights for Modern Family for all of the 212 DMA’s in the United States adds up to “a ton of money,” too.  But when the show doesn’t deliver the ratings for the stations then that ton of money becomes a very poor investment — and that’s exactly what has happened. 

“According to CoxReps’ November NSI numbers, the show did only a 1.5 household rating — ratings far below what we expected when we negotiated for the rights to the show. Right or wrong, ratings are still the driving force in our industry and you have compromised them for all of the broadcast stations, not to mention your barter advertisers in the show.

“The syndication model for the CW and Fox stations has been totally compromised. No station can project the ratings for an off-network show going into syndication when the syndicator is allowing the cable networks unlimited runs of the same show.

“As far as I’m concerned you have burned a bridge, so good luck 20th when you come around asking for renewals and good luck trying to sell us anything in the future. I don’t care if you get the rights to the next Seinfeld. I’m not interested.”

Comments (13)

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none none says:

February 3, 2014 at 8:14 am

Bravo! (as in congratulations for your open letter- not the cable channel)

Joe Jaime says:

February 3, 2014 at 9:16 am

Any deal that goes to cable prior to getting your initial runs aired first is troublesome. This is why more and more stations are in the news business in the critical revenue hours on the schedule.

Brian Bussey says:

February 3, 2014 at 9:23 am

Subscriber financed media will destroy free over the air broadcast if left unchecked. USA has not viewers from 6am to 4pm. Modern Family will not change that.

Matthew Castonguay says:

February 3, 2014 at 9:53 am

Real issues but not sure what is served by wording an open letter as though written by a petulant child.

Maria Laing says:

February 3, 2014 at 10:01 am

Not a petulant child but a businessman who sees the value of his investment stripped away by some greedheads. Maybe syndicators just see o-t-a stations as just a source of “ancillary revenue,” but the reality is when the ratings they’re stuck with for those overxposed shows tank, those stations will be looking elsewhere for programming.

Matthew Castonguay says:

February 3, 2014 at 10:03 am

I think I was pretty clear making a distinction between the content and the style of the letter.

Teri Keene says:

February 3, 2014 at 10:21 am

I heard “Modern Family” isn’t doing well on USA, so there’s another interesting angle to the story.

Celeste Champagne says:

February 3, 2014 at 12:16 pm

All good points. Nonetheless, name me another single camera, no laugh track, no live audience sitcom that has succeeded?

Ida Anderson says:

February 3, 2014 at 12:21 pm

This dude should have known the type of deal he was making. Cable’s over-use of off net fare is not a new thing ( look at Big Bang Theory, The Office, 30 Rock etc).

Unless the syndiicator guaranteed a specific rating for the program, which I think they never do, the responsibility to estimate a proper rating rests with the station. That estimate should take into account the presumption of copious reruns on cable.

Sounds like this guy (and his team) didn’t do their diligence on what he was buying, made a bad deal, and he is now trying to blame the supplier.

Hopefully a lesson learned for this station guy, and a cautionary tale for those that bid for programs without doing all their homework.

Bobbi Proctor says:

February 3, 2014 at 4:35 pm

For non cable or satellite viewers like us anything that drives away programs from our local TV stations reduces the program options that we have. Fortunately MeTV, AntennaTV, Cozi, Bounce, ThisTV, ION,PBS Create and other new networks on our local stations have given us some great additional programming to fill the gap.

Sarah Hooven says:

February 3, 2014 at 4:43 pm

I think its a great letter and is right on target. These syndicators are total crooks and have compromised the financial health of many CW and smaller Fox affiliates. They are NOT OUR PARTNERS, and that’s why its critical to generate more and more local programming that’s not just local news. We will be 100% out of cash syndication by late 2015, and will NEVER GO BACK. All the product is so damn diluted it carries no weight with most viewers. We have to do a better job of not doing cash deals with these guys and let them live off clearance rights only–they’ll still make a fortune. We should have a forum on this at NAB, because its a serious problem.

joanne gauvin says:

February 3, 2014 at 5:06 pm

Love how there’s no mention of what the station is paying for the show… probably barter. LOL

diane seghers says:

February 3, 2014 at 6:08 pm

If this move bothers you, wait until “Simpsons” begins its cable run. Anyone’s license fees (based on 1992 economics) going down?