WNYW nabs rerun rights to ‘Seinfeld’

Col TriStar brings in bushels of cash for rerun rights

Let the “Seinfeld” syndie sweepstakes begin.

In the first of a string of “Seinfeld” syndie renewal deals to come, Fox O&O WNYW New York has ponied up mega-coin to Columbia TriStar TV Distribution to snare the rerun rights to the hit sitcom away from Gotham incumbent WPIX starting in 2001.

There were conflicting reports about how much WNYW agreed to pay, with some sources close to the situation pegging the price at about $260,000 per week over the five-year license term, while others said it was closer to $300,000 per week.

Either way, it’s a record-shattering fee for rerun rights to a sitcom in its second off-network cycle.

From WNYW alone, “Seinfeld” producer Castle Rock TV and Col TriStar will harvest $67 million to $78 million over the five-year license term. Reps for WNYW and Col TriStar declined to comment Tuesday.

Col TriStar’s push to ink syndie renewals on “Seinfeld,” which made its syndie bow in fall 1995, comes as interest in the show reaches fever pitch in anticipation of the series finale, set to air May 14.

The start date of the second-cycle, or the end of the initial license term that began in fall 1995, hinged on the span of “Seinfeld’s” primetime run on NBC.

So when Jerry Seinfeld late last year confirmed plans to end the show’s 9-year run this season, TV stations around the country began girding for high-stakes negotiations with Col TriStar for the second-cycle rerun rights in their markets. New York, the nation’s largest TV market, is traditionally the first stop, as well as the price pace-setter, for major syndie off-net deals.

In the second wave of “Seinfeld’s” syndie lifecycle, Col TriStar is understood to be keeping its options open for a simultaneous cable window.

Given Castle Rock TV’s ties to Turner Broadcasting and now Time Warner, industry forecasters predict the show will land on the TBS cabler, but Col TriStar sources say any talk of a cable deal is still a long way off.

TV stations have been clamoring for the right to air two reruns of “Seinfeld” per day, but Col TriStar has held the line at one per day, six days a week, in an effort to keep the ratings high and to keep the individual episodes from getting stale. In the next go-round, Col TriStar still isn’t budging on the issue of double-runs, but it is giving stations the option of adding a seventh run on a Saturday or Sunday.

In New York, “Seinfeld’s” second-cycle pricetag is nearly double the per-week fee Tribune Broadcasting’s WPIX now pays for the top-rated “show about nothing.”

“Seinfeld” has been a monster for WPIX in latenight since the show bowed nationally in syndication in fall 1995. Just last month, “Seinfeld” drove WPIX to a historic February sweep win in the 11 p.m. timeslot, beating the Big Three O&O late newscasts.

“Seinfeld’s” future move to WNYW was not unexpected. WPIX general manager Paul Bissonette said the renewal price sought by Col TriStar was just too rich.

“We knew that at a certain price, it would make sense for us to renew ‘Seinfeld,’ but we made a business decision that the (money Col TriStar) was looking for did not make sense,” Bissonette said, underscoring that WPIX will be basking in “Seinfeld’s” glow for the next three years.

For WNYW, the acquisition of “Seinfeld” was viewed as a loss-leader investment in the future. Industry vets say that in the $260,000-$300,000 per week range, WNYW will be hard pressed to break even on the show, let alone turn a profit. But WNYW needs a tentpole show to give residual bounce to lead-in and lead-out timeslots, as well as serve as a valuable promotional vehicle.

WNYW has been in a slump for the past few years, failing to keep pace with the steady growth of Fox O&Os and affils nationwide. Closer to home, WNYW has lost considerable ground to rival WPIX in the key 10 p.m. news race.

In outbidding WPIX for “Seinfeld,” WNYW is gambling that the reruns will be as popular in 2001 and beyond as they have been over the past three years.

Some see that as a risky strategy, but “Seinfeld” has defied skeptics before. When Col TriStar set out on its initial off-net “Seinfeld” sales blitz in 1994, there was considerable unease among buyers as to whether an adult-oriented show about neurotic New Yorkers would work well in syndication.

“It’s risky for stations that didn’t get ‘Seinfeld’ the first time to pay any price to get it away from their competitors in the second-cycle,” says one top syndie sales exec. “If the (ratings) don’t hold up, it’ll be viewed as a huge mistake, but if they do, it’ll be seen as a slam dunk.”

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