"Glee", "Modern Family" sold to Oxygen, USA respectively

In a deal that helps set a precedent, NBC Universal’s cable networks have acquired exclusive cable off-network rights to Twentieth Television’s hour-long drama Glee and half-hour sitcom Modern Family.

USA Network- which hasn’t bought a major sitcom for its first cycle since Major Dad and Wings in the early 1990’s, gets Modern Family for a reported $1.4 million per episode while female-targeted Oxygen acquired Glee for roughly $500,000 per episode.

And the deal could start paying dividends for Oxygen as soon as 2011 – included is the rights to air a reality show which would focus on finding the next cast member of Glee, which would air beginning next summer (Fox has already renewed Glee for a third season and is likely to renew for a fourth.)

These two shows and NCIS: Los Angeles – which sold for $2.2  million per episode to USA last fall, set a major precedent – marking the first time ever a series has been sold into syndication – broadcast or cable – after only a season on the air (not counting back-end strip deals for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine when those series were launched.)

Usually, shows are sold into syndication when they are in their second or third season on the air. For example, The Big Bang Theory is currently in its third season on the air (heading into its fourth season this fall) and is currently being sold in syndication.

But what makes these deals so unusual is how the bidding process. Usually, syndicators make the decision to bring a show into market and set the floor prices, which has been the standard practice for decades. NBCU made the rather unprecedented move to make Twentieth an offer for the shows outright – forcing rival cable networks to scramble to put together bids. 

The sales also the growing clout cable networks have – thanks to dual revenue streams from both subscriber fees and advertising – over the off-network syndication market these days, something broadcasters used to have. For example,  repeats of 30 Rock were sold to both Comedy Central and WGN America before they were sold to broadcasters.

While Twentieth plans to sell Modern Family as a weekday strip to broadcast syndication later, it is unlikely Glee will be sold in that manner as stations are not interested in airing off-network dramas five days a week. Look for Glee to be offered as a weekend offering for broadcasters instead.

Thought:  These three shows – NCIS: LA, Glee, and Modern Family have re-written the rules when it comes to selling programs in off-network cable syndication. While Modern and NCIS are keepers because they repeat well, the same cannot may not be said for Glee. While the series has been a water-cooler hit for Fox this season, the series’ faddish nature – with flavor of the moment guest stars and musicial acts – could date itself when it gets to off-net in 2013, essentially becoming the next Miami Vice.

When Miami Vice came out to market in 1986, stations passed on it because they belived the series’ heavy emphasis on fashion and music would date itself by the time it hit syndication – and they were right. After a long delay, the show was finally sold to USA and when they began airing the series in 1990, the show predictably flopped in the ratings.

The same could very well happen to Glee – a program with too many musical numbers wrapped around a very thin plot. Oxygen and NBCU better hope this $500,000-per-episode investment is worth it.

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