T Dog’s Think Tank: The state of syndication, Part 2

Second of two parts.

A new morning show which debuted on Comcast SportsNet last month pairing up former WSCR-AM (Score) partners Mike North and Dan Jiggetts titled Monsters in the Morning.

While the three-hour program offers up sports news and weather every morning from 6 to 9 a.m., the deal on how the show got on the air – is something producers – especially syndicators – should be taking a look at.

It’s a groundbreaking business model (for local TV at least) where the host of the show – in this case, Mike North – has a stake in the program’s financial future and burdening some of the risk.

The program is not owned by CSN – it’s actually part-owned by North himself – and he actually is one of the show’s sales reps.

CSN isn’t paying North a salary – his production company (Licorice Ltd.) is producing the show and paying the talent – including Mr. Jiggetts and other behind-the-scenes staff. Comcast SportsNet is paying a license fee to air the show.

CSN and Licorice are splitting the commercial time to sell (similar to a traditional barter syndication arrangement where the syndicator gets time to sell to national advertisers and the station carrying the show gets some to sell locally.) Any profits will be split equally between CSN and Licorice.

And North’s company is doing a good job in selling the show so far, closing in on $1 million in ad revenue – with $300,000 coming from a medical staffing firm for the title sponsorship.

With North shouldering some of the risk, the program could become profitable even without a big rating. On its first day on the air, Monsters averaged a meager 0.31 household rating – but did better in its targeted male demos, where it passed competing fare on two network-owned outlets.

This business model may be something other producers in the television business – especially syndicators – need to take a look at.

With more and more projects getting shelved and existing first-run programming being canceled, or on the verge of being canceled, sharing the risk – especially in this economy – is a good idea. Already, several syndicated programs – from Trivial Pursuit: America Plays to Judge Karen have been axed, due to low ratings and poor national advertising sales.

With ratings fragmentation the norm in daytime programming, there has to be a better way of producing – and keeping programs on the air.

Instead of hiring just the talent to host the show, why not involve the person in the risk? (While you say Oprah Winfrey is an example, keep in mind she did not have any financial stake in her talk show when she started.)

The business needs more than just hosts – it needs entrepreneurs – with talent (and for better or worse, Mike North does qualify.) The failure of first-run syndicated product will continue to be high unless the studios find a more innovative way of making their product profitable. They need to look at new alternatives instead of paying such and such millions of dollars to host a talk show and watch it fail within six months.

So far this season, only one show (CBS Television Distribution’s The Doctors) you can qualify as a hit with its medical news in a talk show-discussion format, which continues to grow in the ratings every week (now that’s what I’m talking about – finding an original, innovative concept – and letting it work for itself. Unfortunately, this does not happen too often in syndication. )

Comcast SportsNet knows they’re not going to find the next Matt Lauer and Meredith Vierra. Apparently, syndicators are still trying to find the next Oprah – a strategy that hasn’t worked for the last 23 years. It’s time for a strategy that does work – and who here would have thought Comcast SportsNet may have come up with it?