TBS wins ‘Seinfeld’ auction

Turner triumphs in mogul battle, sitcom fetches $100 mil

Ted Turner has outbid Rupert Murdoch and Barry Diller for the cable TV rights to “Seinfeld” in a fierce auction that has driven the price of the show to more than $100 million.

The parties to the deal — Turner’s TBS Superstation and Columbia TriStar TV, the distributor of “Seinfeld” — will make the announcement today but have so far declined to comment on the terms.

TBS will be able to start running the series in fall 2002, having beaten out Murdoch’s FX channel and Diller’s USA Network. TBS will pay a record price of more than $700,000 for each of the 180 episodes over a four-year license term.

This deal helps to catapult the overall gross of “Seinfeld” to well above $1.5 billion. This figure includes the first rerun cycle of “Seinfeld” in TV syndication and presale of the second rerun cycle, which covers both syndication and TBS.

TBS to share

TBS will have to share “Seinfeld” with TV stations in every U.S. market, although Col TriStar has agreed to sell the Atlanta syndication rights to WTBS, the superstation’s home base.

Col TriStar will stick to its rigid policy in TV syndication of not permitting the buyers of “Seinfeld”

to run the show more than once a day, instead of the double plays that TV stations and cable nets often use to exploit high-rated sitcoms, such as “Home Improvement” and “The Simpsons.”

Early reports last month put the cable TV bidding at $500,000 an episode. But A&E and Comedy Central, following the lead set by TBS, USA and FX, started talking to Col TriStar, so the price quickly escalated.

TBS got no special consideration in the negotiations, despite the fact that TBS’ sister company, Castle Rock TV, produced “Seinfeld.”

Col TriStar assured rival bidders that the show would go to the network that paid the most money.

USA and FX stayed in the bidding through last week, at least in part because TBS has amassed an impressive arsenal of rerun sitcoms for early in the next century, including Warner Bros.’ “Friends,” slated for fall 2001; and, scheduled for fall 2002, Buena Vista’s “Home Improvement”; and Warners’ “The Drew Carey Show.”

In addition to the huge license fee TBS is shelling out, the superstation is giving two 30-second spots within each half hour to Col TriStar, which will sell them to national-barter advertisers and keep the revenues.

If “Seinfeld” performs well on TBS, those 30-second spots could be worth another $300,000 or more an episode over the four-year life of the contract.

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