The state of syndication in 2020

Two new talk shows are being offered this fall: CBS Television Distribution’s Drew Barrymore (l.) and Debmar-Mercury’s Nick Cannon.

With Tamron Hall and Kelly Clarkson hits, syndication’s doing well thank you very much

If you’ve read this blog over the years, I usually write a “state of syndication” article around this time every year as NATPE approaches, and it often wasn’t rosy – especially this piece I wrote in 2016, Charlie Brown dozing off and all.

But as we enter the new decade, first-run syndication has never been healthy – thanks to the successful launches of NBCUniversal’s Kelly Clarkson and Disney’s Tamron Hall talk shows and the continued overall strength of numerous veterans from Ellen to Wheel Of Fortune to Judge Judy – something to celebrate as the 57th edition of NATPE kicks off today from the Fontainebleau Hotel & Resort in Miami Beach.

Syndication also received a boost from James Holzhauer’s success on Jeopardy! as his winning streak and his play in the recent Tournament of Champions helped achieve numbers the already successful game show hadn’t seen in years. It led to ABC picking up several episodes of Jeopardy! for prime-time this past month featuring Holzhauer, Ken Jennings, and Brad Ruetter. Dubbed The Greatest of All Time, each show drew around 15 million viewers, stunning industry execs (Sony is produced the specials for ABC; CBS Television Distribution had no involvement.)

According to TVNewsCheck and iSpotTV, the ten most-watched syndicated programs took in $335 million in ad sales in the 4th quarter, with Clarkson taking in $17 million, just missing that list. Clarkson has drawn 1.7 million viewers daily, with Hall right behind her at 1.2 million – that’s more than several prime-time shows on The CW.

We could see all first-run programs (except one) who debuted last fall return for a second season – and this is coming from a part of the television business that once saw a 90 percent failure rate for freshman shows. Already renewed are Clarkson and Hall, with Fox’s 25 Words Or Less (also with 1.2 million viewers, tying Hall) and weekly political talk show Full Court Press also receiving green lights for season two. Also likely to get picked up for next season include NBCUniversal’s Judge Jerry, Trifecta’s Protection Court, and even Sony’s The Mel Robbins Show, who is rated at the bottom of the talk show pack.

Robbins currently averages around a 0.4 Nielsen household rating and 466,000 viewers. But on the former Tribune stations (now Nexstar), Robbins’ non-confrontational talk show is likely drawing more ad revenue than the programming it replaced – usually trash shows such as Steve Wilkos, Jerry Springer, or Maury, which Tribune has aired for years. In Chicago, WGN-TV replaced Maury with Robbins at 1 p.m. last September with Povich sliding to 2 p.m. Recently, Robbins was upgraded from late-night in Los Angeles to 4 p.m. on Nexstar CW affiliate KTLA.

The lone show likely not coming back is Sony’s America Says, off-GSN episodes airing locally on Fox-owned My50 (WPWR) at 4 p.m.

Despite low ratings, Mel Robbins’ talk show could actually return for a second season, thanks to stronger ad revenues than the conflict shows it replaced on the former Tribune stations.

So far, two new talkers have been announced for next fall: CBS Television Distribution’s Drew Barrymore (cleared in 38 percent of the country via CBS O&Os) and Debmar-Mercury’s Nick Cannon, cleared in 40 percent of the country on Fox O&Os, where it will air twice a day in Chicago over Fox 32 (WFLD) and My50. Cannon has already received a leg up on Barrymore by engaging in a well-publicized social media feud with his longtime nemesis Eminem.

The real question is where both shows are going to wind up on Chicago TV schedules, given Fox’s stations have renewed their entire slate of syndicated programs for next fall, while CTD could decide to clear Barrymore on another station in town, similar to what Disney did with Hall last year by shifting the show to WCIU as ABC 7 (WLS) had no room on its schedule due to Windy City Live if CBS 2 (WBBM) decides not to replace Hot Bench at 2 p.m.

Sony is preparing to launch The Good Dish, a cooking/lifestyle program with Daphne Oz, daughter of Dr. Oz. With Maury up for renewal in 2020, it’s entirely possible Dish could replace him in some markets, including Chicago if Robbins come back, or serve as a replacement for Robbins if she doesn’t.

As for off-network fare, the lone “off-network” sitcom being released for fall is the off-CBC Schitt’s Creek, already picked up by the Fox O&Os. Both WGN and WFLD and numerous other stations have reduced their time devoted to off-network sitcoms in recent years and replaced them with news or other first-run programming. And as I pointed out last July, the marketplace for weekend non-sports programming continues to be weak as stations have all but abandoned the daypart (I’ll have an update on the weekend programming situation in the next post.)

Though NATPE is a place where syndicators traditionally do deals with stations, the last few years saw several shows sold well after the convention took place – for example, CTD rolled out Daily Mail TV in March 2017 and Trifecta announced Protection Court last May.

So how has syndicated TV stayed relevant? Dating back to the 1970s, syndicated programs were more diverse, with animated kids programming, scripted sitcoms and dramas, made-for-TV movies and specials, and later reality programs in addition to talk, magazine, and game shows.

But most of those genres dried up in the last 15 years or so due to changing viewer tastes (and this was even before streaming arrived), and it left the business with mostly first-run talk, magazine, and game shows in daytime, early fringe (afternoons), and prime access (6-8 p.m.) But this reinvention formula is working for both stations and syndicators as these types of shows are less impacted by delayed viewing and streaming, unlike prime-time programming on the broadcast networks and entertainment cable channels.

TVNewsCheck contributed to this report. 


3 thoughts on “The state of syndication in 2020

    • the drew barrymore show

    • Please tell me if “Entertainment Tonight” is going to stay on Omaha TV this fall (2020). The current station airing it here doesn’t carry it till just after James Corden, and the GM tells me the station will drop it starting next month. So is it going to be picked up by one of the other four commercial stations in Omaha or will it get the bum’s rush for 2020-21 as it did in virtually all Iowa TV markets in 1990-91? Remember–Omaha is the TV market where Regis & Kelly disappeared for over a year, where ANTENNA TV is still not carried after being let go by two stations, and where reruns of “Gilligan’s Island” were substituted for CBS’ “Spin-Off”, a weekday game show in 1975 that deserved better than what it got from a ton of CBS “affiliates”.

      • You’re talking about CBS affiliate KMTV, right? Unfortunately, I don’t have the information about the show for your market. It’s best to contact someone at ET (if you can) through their website or go to the “where to watch” section next month.

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