NATPE Failed To Revive Sleepy Syndie Biz

In years past, you could get a pretty good idea of what new syndicated offerings will be airing this fall and which won't at NATPE and the days immediately following. Not this year. Eleven days after the show ended, there is still no word on clearances for the handful of new shows and a couple of year-old ones on the bubble.

One week (plus a couple of days) after NATPE and the silence is deafening.

Since the conference ended on Jan. 19, there’s been no word on clearances for any of the new first-run shows — meager though the selection was — that were being presented and pitched in various hotel suites and poolside cabanas at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach.

The shows included Bold, the new, live-streamed pop culture strip from Tegna, along with Tegna’s other self-produced show, T.D. Jakes, which has been in the hunt for clearances on other station groups ever since its debut last fall on stations representing 43% of the country, most of them owned by Tegna.

Other shows that were talked up at NATPE included the new Kellie Pickler talk show — Ben & Kellie (co-hosted by Ben Aaron) — on offer from Scripps; Top 30, yet another syndicated pop-culture show relying in large measure on aggregated videos, and Page Six TV, a celebrity gossip strip — both from Twentieth Television. In addition, Orion Television had its new relationship-court show Couples Court.

And the tireless Byron Allen was selling Funny You Should Ask, a comedy-game show strip that, all things considered, was the freshest concept of all of the first-run shows on the market in Miami. In his pitch to station group programmers, Allen was pushing hard for prime-access clearances.

Since NATPE, though, there’s been nary a peep about any of them. “No updates on Jakes or Bold,” said one of our sources when asked about the two Tegna shows last week.

Concerning Ben & Kellie, a source said Scripps found “enormous interest,” but with a handful of other syndicated shows still on the fence between cancellation and renewal for next season, no decision has yet been made on whether time periods will open up sufficiently for the show to go forward this fall.

When people involved in station programming and syndication talk about shows “on the fence” right now, they’re usually referring to NBCU’s Harry with Harry Connick Jr.


The show covers most of the country, and was the only real national launch in first-run syndication last fall — supported mainly by clearances on the Fox O&Os.

There’s no word yet on whether it will get a Season Two this fall, although there are plenty of prognosticators — from rival companies, it should be emphasized — who say it will not.

As for Page Six TV and Top 30, they’re both a go for next fall, anchored mainly by the Fox-owned stations. Since NATPE, there’s been no word on further clearances for either of them.

What’s the problem? In part, it’s the same logjam that everyone in the broadcast syndication business has been talking about, and continued to talk about at NATPE: With so many long-running, first-run shows not budging from their timeslots (with some renewed now through 2019-20), and station groups filling their own airtime with an increasing number of shows they’re producing themselves, premium real estate — i.e., time periods of the quality needed to launch new first-run shows — ranges from scarce to non-existent.

The result is a syndication business in the doldrums. In private conversations at NATPE, the national syndicators tended to deride the station groups’ efforts to produce their own shows. The traditional syndicators seem to regard the station group output as occupying a category of TV show that’s somewhere beneath the first-run product the national syndicators sell — like B-movies compared to A-level feature films.

And maybe they have a point. All of those “pop culture” shows cobbled together with video clips aggregated from all corners of the Internet — this isn’t show business, is it? Where’s the sizzle?

Well, maybe in the context of today’s local broadcasting metrics, these kinds of shows are what passes for show biz. In private conversations of their own in Miami, the station group people said the syndicated product that’s clogging up the pipeline is losing its cost-effectiveness for them. The license fees are high and ratings are in decline.

Making their own shows is more economical, they said. They have the facilities and the equipment, and the stations to air them. The economic model seems to be: produce shows frugally enough and you can make a go of it even if the show is airing in less than 50% of the country. When asked about national advertising, they say it will come in time.

The station groups seem to enjoy producing their own shows and taking a stab at distributing them themselves to stations other than their own, although their success as self-syndicators has been mixed, to say the least.

“It’s like the difference between owning a car and leasing a car,” said Tribune’s top programmer, Sean Compton, in a NATPE panel discussion. “When you own a piece of the show, you’re more invested in it [and] there’s more passion for it.”

The national syndicators are feeling the economic pinch. In the same NATPE panel, one syndication executive — Greg Meidel of Twentieth Television — outlined the costs of launching new shows into first-run syndication and admitted that even his company has become more “disciplined.”

Among the costs a company such as Twentieth has to consider, he said: As much as $5 million to promote a new show in its first season, and $600,000 just to pay Nielsen to provide national ratings numbers.

“As an industry, I think everybody is more disciplined than we used to be,” Meidel said. “We don’t spend that $45 million on a show like we used to. We’re very cost-efficient. You look for tax credits, a lot of things you can do ….”

 It bears mentioning that a week of no sales news in the wake of NATPE does not necessarily mean that the sales efforts mounted at the conference were in vain or otherwise ineffective. Clearance announcements could still come at any time this week — maybe even today.

Adam Buckman is a contributing editor for TVNewsCheck covering mostly the syndication business.

Comments (5)

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David Sargeant says:

January 30, 2017 at 10:30 am

Our production company attended NATPE for the first time in hopes of getting both exposure for our series and learning more about the distribution process, which is changing daily. We brought the completed first season of a high concept show starring 7 millennial women in a post apocalyptic world and learned quickly how Leonardo DiCaprio felt on the Titanic as he tried to navigate his way out of stowage to the top decks.
We did have several Kathy Bate’s characters, giving us inside information, sharing what the powers in the towers were saying about the project but barriers to access were in place everywhere. Our team of ten included everyone from the Executive Producer, to the creator/show runner to the manger and production coordinator to some of the actors. We would gather at night, picking shrapnel from our butts, sharing war stories of exclusion if we dared leave the floor of our booth and attempt the climb to access.
Walking past the cabanas was as fraught with peril as attempting a breach of the Tower of London, hoping just to get a glimpse at the jewels. No one was out to commit larceny, just hoped to fulfill what NATPE has traditionally represented. Oh, and heaven forbid you approach a room in the towers, without a gilded invitation to grovel and pitch and pray for a crumb from the establishment.
Truth is … things are changing so rapidly, that our target market doesn’t even watch TV in the traditional manor. One of our key editors admitted he’s been unplugged from cable for a year and downloads all his shows. Our DP can navigate the VOD sites like a veteran pilot reciting with ease what’s hot and what’s not. That viral approach is what’s putting unknowns on the map and making big bucks for little players.
You will be hard pressed to find a millennial who actually sits and watches network TV and they would deny, upon pain of death, that they ever sit through the commercials if they did watch a series. It’s all recorded to watch on their own time, if that is the only way to watch a show they have been following for years.
I’m being a little melodramatic as I retell our NATPE experience, which actually was a lot of fun. But as far as there being a connection between what used to be and what is … there is a huge gap. Because of the way movies and series are being produced, seen, and downloaded, it necessarily changes the relationship between the producer and the distributor.
The people with NATPE were a delight to work with though and we have nothing but kudos and accolades for the entire group.

    alicia farmer says:

    January 30, 2017 at 11:52 am

    Now that NATPE is over – you might want to take some courses in English composition and grammar. Have you ever heard of paragraphs?

    Kristina Veltri says:

    January 30, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    I think she did mean to do paragraphs, but the comments software compresses it down. I’ve tried paragraphs numerous times and they have never worked.

    RJ B says:

    January 30, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    I tend to agree that the very small group of REAL buyers attending NATPE were not interested in allowing unknown producers to present programming. I first attended NATPE in 1988 with a small booth on the floor next to Merv and Vanna and was approached by hundreds of TV program directors who bought my shows. Now it is a waste of money because like you we so NO buyers venturing to the show floor period. Like you we found that requesting appointments through the NATPE app futile and the only people reaching out to us was people selling services wearing buyer badges. I agree that TV is losing viewers and until they start competing with fresh programs that viewers want we will continue to erode our audience to YouTube and Facebook.

    Wagner Pereira says:

    January 30, 2017 at 9:12 pm

    Wow. FORMERGM spews BS for years and never figured out NewsCheck comments never does formatting. ROFLMAO. Talk about someone who cannot see the obvious in front of him.