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Stations look to cut syndication costs

TV station groups experiment with cheaper, homegrown fare

In an attempt to cut their costs for syndicated programming, TV station groups have been experimenting with homegrown fare that they roll out slowly in a few markets before making a larger commitment. The latest of these tests is Scripps’ “Let’s Ask America,” a gameshow the group is producing in cooperation with Warner Bros.’ Telepictures and ParaMedia.

What makes “Let’s Ask America” different than the typical syndicated slow rollout is that it’s replacing CBS Television Distribution’s monster gameshows “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” in six of its markets. Should the significantly cheaper “Let’s Ask America” perform respectably — and so far it has — it might cause stations paying large license fees for those veteran gamers to think twice.

Besides higher license fees, a disadvantage to both “Wheel” and “Jeopardy” is that they attract older viewers, which makes them less attractive to advertisers. Some 77% of “Wheel’s” audience is 55 and older; so is 75% of the “Jeopardy” viewership. Thus far, 60% of the “Let’s Ask America” audience is 55-plus.

“Let’s Ask America” features four in-home viewers facing off via Skype, and answering trivia questions in elimination-round fashion, with the eventual winner taking home a jackpot based on how much of their winnings they wager in the final round.

The show replaces “Wheel” in Phoenix, Baltimore and Kansas City, and runs instead of “Jeopardy” in Tampa, Cleveland and Cincinnati. In all six markets, the primary run of “Let’s Ask” is in access. In a seventh market, Tulsa, the show replaces Sony Pictures Television’s “Dr. Oz” at 2:30 p.m. (and has secondary runs in Phoenix and Kansas City).

“Let’s Ask” debuted to an average 1.7 household rating/3 share for all telecasts, according to Nielsen, and improved on those numbers in its second week, to a 1.8/4. While that’s a far cry from the 4.6/10 that “Wheel,” “Jeopardy” and “Dr. Oz” scored last year in those timeslots, the difference narrows in daytime’s key advertiser demographic of women 25-54. In that demo, “Let’s Ask” scored a 0.7/3 in its first week and a 0.9/3 in its second, compared with “Wheel” (1.8/6) and “Jeopardy” (1.4/5). Moreover, the third- and fourth-ranked games, Debmar-Mercury’s “Family Feud” and Disney-ABC’s “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” averaged only a 0.7 rating in the demo last September.

Meanwhile, national ratings for most of syndication’s rookies came out last week, and as expected, Disney-ABC’s “Katie” topped the freshman chart at a 2.0 same-day household rating. NBCUniversal’s “Steve Harvey” (1.2) and CBS Television Distribution’s “Jeff Probst” (0.7) followed. The national rating for Twentieth’s “Ricki Lake,” which opened at a 0.8/2 in the metered markets, was reprocessed by Nielsen and thus unavailable.

“Katie’s” metered market ratings have declined since its premiere, so its national ratings are expected to fall off accordingly. “Steve Harvey” is down about 10% in the metered markets since its premiere, although its national number isn’t expected to drop much, while “Probst” and “Ricki” have remained mostly steady, although ratings for both shows are low.

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