The local TV equivalent of hell freezing over came to pass Friday as Chris Craft/ United-owned KCOP agreed to pay a record-shattering license fee for an off-network comedy that probably will have simultaneous exposure on a cable network once it moves to KCOP in 2001.
The show? What else — “Seinfeld.” The weekly license fee? A cool $315,000, according to sources, more than double the pricetag “Seinfeld” incumbent KTLA has been paying Columbia TriStar TV Distribution for the rerun rights to the Castle Rock TV sitcom since its syndie bow in 1995.
The deal, coming on the heels of the May 14 “Seinfeld” finale in primetime, marks one of the richest, possibly the single richest, license fee pacts ever struck for a syndie skein, firstrun or off-net. KCOP not only had to outbid KTLA for the second-cycle rights, it had to outdo Fox O&O KTTV, which was known to be eager to add “Seinfeld” to its off-net arsenal as other Fox O&Os have done in recent weeks.
For Chris Craft/United, co-owner of the UPN weblet, picking up “Seinfeld” for KCOP meant making an exception to the station group’s virtually iron-clad policy against sharing programming with cable. But that’s all it is — an exception, not a philosophical shift, according to Laurey Barnett, exec VP of Chris Craft TV.
“We made an exception because ‘Seinfeld’ is an extremely unique show,” Barnett said. “We, along with the entire industry, think ‘Seinfeld’ is in a league of its own. This deal should not be seen as a change in our policy or that we are abdicating our policy about cable. We still believe very firmly in the importance” of broadcast exclusivity for syndie programming.
“We don’t think the loss of (exclusivity) hurts the show’s viability in this case. We think ‘Seinfeld’ will be a competitive show for years to come. There’s only one ‘MASH’ and there’s only one ‘Seinfeld,’ ” said Barnett. “We thought it was too important not to go after it.”
Barnett and reps for CTTD would not comment on financial terms of the deal, but knowledgeable sources said the deal would cost KCOP upward of $80 million, or about $480,000 per episode for 169 segs, over the five-year license term. In addition, CTTD will retain one minute of barter advertising time in each telecast.
CTTD has been able to command unprecedented license fee hikes for its second-cycle deals on “Seinfeld” because the syndie reruns have proven so profitable — with margins as high as 40% to 50% — for broadcast stations. Locally, KCOP is viewed as in need of the kind of tentpole show that not only draws big Nielsen numbers, but also provides an invaluable promotional platform for other shows and dayparts.
KCOP was a contender in L.A. for “Seinfeld” when it was first sold into syndication in March 1994, but KTLA won the show for an estimated weekly fee of $130,000, or about $220,000 per seg. The expiration of “Seinfeld’s” initial syndie license term hinged on the end of “Seinfeld’s” run on NBC. When Jerry Seinfeld confirmed in December that this season would be the last, the start of the second-cycle date was pegged at the spring of 2001.
The cable component of “Seinfeld’s” second life cycle in syndication has not been set in stone yet, but CTTD has kept the cable option open in its renewal negotiations with broadcast stations. Conventional wisdom has “Seinfeld” going to Time Warner’s TBS cabler, given that Castle Rock TV is now a TW unit, but the cable auction for “Seinfeld” probably won’t be held until CTTD has most of its broadcast renewals sewn up.
Fox’s New York O&O WNYW got the “Seinfeld” renewal steamroller going in March when it outbid Gotham incumbent WPIX for the second-cycle rights. Since then, CTTD has wrapped up mega-buck deals in dozens of markets covering at least 50% of U.S. TV households. Among the recent stations signing on are Fox O&Os in Philadelphia, Boston and Denver.