TV deal covers soaps, primetime, syndies

Consumer products giant Procter & Gamble, looking to expand its programming presence, has inked an overall production/distribution deal with Sony’s Columbia TriStar Television Group.

The three-year deal, which runs through the 1999-2000 TV season, will look to develop programming for prime-time, daytime and firstrun syndication. The alliance is Procter & Gamble’s second partnership with a major Holly-wood studio. P&G is in the third year of a similar deal with Viacom’s Paramount.

For Columbia TriStar Television, an alliance with one of television’s top advertisers means not only a partner to help shoulder production costs for programming, but also an opportunity to further the studio’s goal of becoming a dominant force in the daytime soap business.

“This strategic agreement taps into the resources of two prominent global companies that complement each other in the effective production, distribution, and advertiser-support of content,” said Columbia TriStar TV Group president Jon Feltheimer.

The deal, sources said, is similar to P&G’s three-year deal with Paramount. In that alliance, the two partners share equally in the development and production costs of new primetime programs and shows for firstrun syndication. That deal, signed in March 1995, covers all new development through the 1997-98 broadcast season and is ex-pected to be renewed.

The latest deal is “really an expansion of the same strategy,” said one source involved with P&G, crafted after company execs were comfortable with the progress of the Paramount deal.

Money is no objective

While saving on production is certainly a perk of such an alliance, Columbia execs stressed that money was not a motivator.

“This is not a financial partnership,” said Columbia TriStar Television Group executive vice president Andy Kaplan. “We don’t need the money. This is a strategic partnership with a major advertiser that brings lots of re-sources and benefits.”

A key component to P&G, sources said, is guaranteeing the availability of ad spots on a potential hit, as well as a share of any lucrative back-end deals. The company gets national barter time on syndicated properties and, for network series, a commitment to a minimum number of units in preferred ad slots, often at favorable rates already given to the top advertiser.

TeleVest, a media-buying and programming affiliate of the DMB&B ad agency, handled negotiations for P&G along with P&G execs Daryl Simm, director of worldwide media, and associate director Dave Cowan.

In both the Paramount and Columbia deals, P&G can back out of any show it’s not interested in: “We don’t go in and say, ‘We don’t like what’s on page 3, make it funnier,’ ” senior VP-advertising Robert Wehling told Daily Va-riety last year. “If they develop a show which we feel uncomfortable with, we’re excluded as sponsors.”

P&G will be a partner primarily on shows that Columbia is developing inhouse, although additional partners can be brought in on a project if both parties agree. Network and daytime shows will be produced through Columbia TriStar Television, which is headed by Eric Tannenbaum.

Still, the pact is meant to be all-encompassing, with P&G’s ability to opt out largely limited to super-expensive pet projects or shows like an “NYPD Blue,” that P&G would reject for ad buys because of content.

P&G didn’t seek pitch meetings from other studios, instead turning to Columbia specifically because of its “fit” with P&G in the daytime arena: Together, Columbia and P&G produce five of the 10 current network soaps, and five of the seven on NBC and CBS.

It is the daytime element of the alliance that could ultimately provide the most opportunities to expand for Colum-bia and P&G. The duo are the two top soap opera producers. Procter & Gamble owns “Guiding Light,” “As the World Turns” and “Another World,” and Columbia TriStar has “The Young and the Restless” and “Days of Our Lives.”

The alliance calls for Columbia TriStar Intl., headed by Michael Grindon, to have international distribution rights for soaps currently produced by each company, as well as any jointly developed soaps down the road. Production of each company’s current serials will continue to be managed separately.

The two companies want to build their international presence, as well as possibly launch a U.S. cable network geared toward soap fans.

On the international front, Columbia has been expanding in Europe, Asia, India and Australia. “We want to create local soaps for the international marketplace,” said Kaplan, who added that the studio would look to use the mar-keting clout of P&G to expand its reach abroad.

Soap channel problematic

Domestically, launching a soap opera channel will be no easy feat. Cable giant Comcast Communication’s programming arm C3 had been in talks with ABC about creating such a channel, but Alphabet web affiliates balked for fear of losing daytime viewers. The project is now on a back burner.

Columbia TriStar execs acknowledged talks with several companies about such a channel.

On the syndication front, P&G execs will work with Columbia TriStar Television Distribution head Barry Thurston to develop fare for the firstrun market.

P&G’s deal with Paramount has had mixed results. Successes include the firstrun syndicated hit “Real TV” and “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch,” which has been a solid performer on ABC’s Friday night schedule. Failures include the network series “Home Court” on NBC and “Good Company” and “Almost Perfect” on CBS. The jury is still out on ABC freshman “Clueless” and the firstrun action hour “Viper.” P&G is also a partner with Paramount on the midseason sitcom “Fired Up” starring Sharon Lawrence, which debuts this spring on NBC.

P&G’s first foray into primetime programming came in 1990, when the company funded Universal Television’s pilot for “Northern Exposure,” which aired as a summer replacement series on CBS. The quirky show went on to become a surprise hit, providing P&G with plenty of exposure to women demos for its products. But “Exposure” proved no windfall on the back end, with little revenue from syndication, cable and international windows.

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