In his first NATPE as president of CBS Television Distribution, Paul Franklin is overseeing a list of some of the longest-running shows in television syndication. His challenge is to hold the line or even grow the license fees for CTD’s stalwart syndication properties in an era when there’s more pressure than ever from stations and station groups to drive down fees.
Steady As It Goes For Paul Franklin And CTD
When you don’t have anything new (at the moment), you renew.
That, in a nutshell, describes the operating mode of Paul Franklin, the new president of CBS Television Distribution, as NATPE gets into full swing today in Miami Beach.
In a pre-NATPE interview, he said he will be working to re-up a raft of shows now set to expire after the upcoming 2017-18 season for two more years, through 2019-20, so they sync up with Judge Judy and Dr. Phil, which are already renewed through that season.
The renewal list includes some of the longest-running shows in syndication, including Entertainment Tonight, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, Inside Edition, The Insider and Rachael Ray. The Doctors and Hot Bench are also included in the renewal push.
The challenge for Franklin, 56, who came over to CTD last summer after a career spanning 28 years with Twentieth Television, is to hold the line or even grow the license fees for CTD’s stalwart syndication properties in an era when there’s more pressure than ever from stations and station groups to drive down fees.
“There’s pressure on all of us,” Franklin conceded, referring to syndicators and their station customers in a phone interview with TVNewsCheck. “Granted, ratings have been fluctuating. … And of course that puts a lot of pressure on the station groups. Sure, who wouldn’t want to pay less?
“But our job is to not let that happen,” he said. “Our job is to find a way to make the best deal we can based on the market, based on what the product is doing, [whether] there is other interest [from other stations in a market].
“We’re not here to lose money, we’re here to make money,” he continued. “It’s obviously a battle and I think we’re [responsive to] what our station partners are going through. But at the same time, I’ve got a job to do for my bosses too. … It’s all a negotiation, but we’re going to fight for every penny we can.”
Franklin says he feels fortunate to have this new job. “Fox was great to me,” he said. “I have nothing but great things to say about everybody that I worked with there.”
Getting tapped to be president of CTD, however, “is like getting handed the keys to the castle,” he said.
Franklin left Twentieth when he, along with other long-time employees, were offered buyout packages. “It was a mass effort on the company’s part to offer these buyout packages and upon receiving that, I knew that this was my time,” Franklin said. “It was attractive enough for me to decide that my time at Fox was up, and I was OK with that.”
The opportunity to head up CTD came somewhat out of the blue. “I welcomed the opportunity to take a breather and spend more time with the family,” Franklin said. “But when I was approached by CBS about the presidency of CTD, I immediately knew it was too great to pass up, so back to work I went.”
More to the point, Franklin said, “When somebody like Leslie Moonves shows an interest in you, you jump.” (In his new job, Franklin reports directly to Moonves, chairman, president and CEO of CBS Corp.)
Franklin’s appointment to the top job at CTD coincides with some changes in the division’s executive ranks. When Franklin was named president of CTD, then-president Armando Nunez took on the new title of president and CEO of CBS Studios International, responsible for international program sales. Nunez had been president-CEO of both CTD and CBS Studios International.
Last September, CTD’s long-time head of publicity, John Wentworth, announced he’ll retire this year. On Jan. 5, CTD named his replacement, Scott Grogin, formerly a long-time corporate communications executive with Fox Television. Grogin’s new title is EVP of communications for CTD.
At the same time, CTD announced a new head of marketing — Mary Beth McAdaragh, formerly an independent marketing consultant. She replaces Michael Mischler, who is retiring.
Franklin joined Twentieth in 1988 as director of sales, central region, based in Chicago following two separate stints with Blair Television, starting in 1984. When he joined Twentieth, the company’s syndicated properties included A Current Affair, which was just getting started in first-run, plus off-network fare such as M*A*S*H and Mr. Belvedere, and theatrical movies from 20th Century Fox.
He remembers that one show that was particularly challenging to sell when it first became available in off-network syndication was, believe it or not, The Simpsons.
“You had Home Improvement and Seinfeld coming out around the same time [and] we wanted to sell The Simpsons as an adult male vehicle,” Franklin recalled. “But The Simpsons was animated. And the struggle was to get general managers to see the value of The Simpsons as an access show. It’s a sitcom [that] just happens to be animated. But it was an adult sitcom. And getting managers and station groups on board with that concept was a challenging sale.
“I remember that pitch. The presentation was so well thought out,” he said. “I remember a general manager in one market back in the Midwest looking at me like, you know, ‘Is this ALF?’ ”
At CTD, the emphasis is clearly on first-run and maintaining the company’s inventory of long-running hits.
“One of my themes over here is to be protective of our house,” Franklin said. “I think that as long as our shows continue to thrive the way they are, and succeed the way they are, we need to protect them, we need to manage them. So our sales team is out there now extending all those renewals.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that CTD is no longer in the business of developing new first-run shows for syndication. The last one the company launched was the court show Hot Bench in fall 2014.
Even a guy like Franklin — who is running a syndication unit whose shows sometimes look as if they’ll run forever — wants to be ready if and when time periods open up for new syndicated shows.
“There are a lot of station groups out there that are trying to do it on their own,” he said of the various efforts on the part of station-group owners to produce their own shows for their own stations (and any others that might want to pick them up).
“But they’re finding out it can be very difficult to do, and I think if that plays out, some things will come and go between now and, say, fall of ’18. We see potential opportunity.”
To read all of TVNewsCheck’s NATPE 2017 coverage, click here.