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Friends of ‘Friends’

Nick gets night rights; TBS run extended

NEW YORK — Warner Bros. Domestic Cable has sold “Friends” to Nick at Nite in a shared window with TBS beginning in the fall of 2011, a deal that will harvest $200 million in license fees and advertising.

The parties declined to discuss deal points, but Nick at Nite will pay about $500,000 an episode for the right to carry the 236 half-hours of “Friends” post-6 p.m. for a six-year term through the fall of 2017. Nick at Nite will also allow Warner Bros. to carve out 30-second spots from the half-hour cablecasts; Warners will pocket all of these ad revenues.

By contrast, TBS’ contract is a continuation of its ongoing deal for “Friends,” which kicked off in the fall of 2001. The network, a sibling of Warner Bros. Domestic Cable, has renewed “Friends” for the same six-year period as Nick at Nite (September 2011 to September 2017) but will pay only $275,000 an episode because Warners will restrict its runs to pre-6 p.m. (except for the first year, when TBS can play the half-hours through 7 p.m.). The three 30-second spots that Warners holds back in each half-hour of “Friends” on TBS will cease on Sept. 4, 2011; TBS will keep all of the advertising time beyond that date.

One of the reasons that a sitcom like “Friends,” which NBC canceled after the 2003-04 season, is still chalking up big bucks in pre-sales through 2017 is that the broadcast networks have failed to come with any blockbuster sitcoms in the past five years.

Worried that the drought in hit comedies could continue, cable networks and TV stations are renewing high-visibility shows like “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Friends” and “Seinfeld” well into the future. Twentieth hasn’t made “The Simpsons” available to cable networks yet because the show is still exclusive to TV stations in off-network syndication.

Right now, TBS is sharing “Friends” with TV stations throughout the country in rerun syndication. Warners has renewed “Friends” in syndication through December 2013, and since the series is still finding an audience, the studio could very well bring the sitcom back later in the decade for a third cycle.

In syndication alone, “Friends” has harvested $4 million an episode in cash license fees, for a total of $944 million. When advertising revenues from the syndication barter spots get added in, the revenues balloon to well over a billion dollars.

Nick at Nite is counting on “Friends” to play directly to the 18-to-49 year olds it targets in its programming and marketing.