OLN wins 'Survivor;' 'Race' deal not yet sealed

A correction was made to this article on June 1, 2005.

CBS’ top two reality shows are getting a second life on cable.

GSN, the network for games, is in final negotiations to pick up cable rights to all seven seasons of “The Amazing Race,” while Comcast-owned Outdoor Life Network is expected to announce today that it has landed all 10 existing seasons (some 160 episodes) of “Survivor.”

Deal for “Race” is not yet done, and both GSN and OLN declined comment. King World, which is involved in distributing both “Survivor” and “Race,” could not be reached for comment.

Execs at both cablers also are mum on license fees. While it’s hard to draw parallels, FX spent about $30 million over four years (or $250,000-$300,000 an episode) for cable rights to “Fear Factor” — the first primetime network reality show to sell into off-net syndication.

However, “Fear” features syndie-friendly self-contained episodes, while “Survivor” and “Amazing Race” are continuing soap operas. Even on the scripted side, skeins with continuing storylines generally tend to fetch less syndie coin.

Nonetheless, “Survivor” and “Race” are two of TV’s longest-running and most critically hailed reality shows. As a result, both skeins should help their respective cablers reach new auds. What’s more, pacts prove there may be an aftermarket for select reality skeins.

A high-profile buy like “Race” could be a boon for GSN, which never quite got off the ground after it shed its original moniker, Game Show Network, and primetime makeup last year. Cabler has achieved better 18-34 ratings via new casino game series and its “Extreme Dodgeball” franchise, but sacrificed a large chunk of its overall viewership in the switch.

Broadcast reality has a history of underperforming in repeats — CBS tried rerunning first-season segs of “Survivor” but pulled only marginal ratings against NBC’s 2000 Summer Olympics coverage. Syndie “Fear Factor” has averaged an OK 2.0 household rating. But even if “Race” averaged just 1 million viewers per seg on GSN, it would give a tremendous lift to the cabler’s overall average (306,000 viewers in first-quarter primetime).

Most recent season of “Race,” produced by Touchstone, Jerry Bruckheimer TV and CBS Prods., averaged a series-best 13 million viewers overall and a 5.3/13 in adults 18-49.

Though it’s in more homes than GSN, OLN also could do with the boost “Survivor” may provide in viewership. In the first quarter, net averaged just 160,000 viewers in primetime (up 2% from a year ago). Latest edition of “Survivor” on CBS averaged roughly 20 million viewers and a 7.4/20 in adults 18-49, making it one of television’s most-watched reality shows. Cabler currently programs a mix of action and field sports, outdoor adventure and bulls and rodeo programming.

It’s believed several cablers expressed interest in the off-net rights to “Survivor.” While King World handled the distribution deal, Burnett already has friendly relations with some OLN execs via their previous collaboration on Burnett’s USA Network skein “Eco-Challenge.”

OLN is in 62 million homes, GSN in 56 million.

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