Unable to find many firstrun syndication shows on your favorite digital video platform like Hulu? Stop looking. They are not available.
“I don’t think you are going to full episodes of every show — or libraries of shows online — in the near future,” says Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for TV station sales rep Katz Television Group.
Why do syndicators virtually never put shows on the Internet — especially firstrun shows? “It’s a combination of things — but primarily TV stations would prefer you can only see shows on their air,” Carroll says.
Stations depend heavily on the identity of firstrun syndication shows in their local markets — just like their local newscasts. So full episodes of “Dr. Phil,” “Ellen,” “Judge Judy” and others are not found on digital video sites.
“We are very cautious about what we’d do in this space,” says Ken Werner, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. “In firstrun, there is a very strong alignment of interest between distributors and TV stations.”
U.S. syndicators do selectively offer up digital content for Internet and mobile platforms that are key pieces of business and marketing plans. For Warner Bros.’ “Ellen,” for example, there are monologues and some backstage video among other video elements on her website. For Disney-ABC Domestic Television’s previously titled “Live With Regis & Kelly,” beginning-of-the-show host talk segments can be found.
There are rare exceptions. Warner Bros.’ “TMZ,” which started as a website, continues to offer full episodes online, on a day-delayed basis. CBS Television Distribution’s “Entertainment Tonight” also offers previous-day full episodes of series.
For some, all this seemingly runs against what many senior executives at media companies tout publicly concerning the digital video age — saying they want to offer entertainment consumers content “anytime, anywhere, on any device.”
More pressing is a consumption issue. TV research shows there is very little in the way of timeshifting for syndicated shows — which means “catch up” or “next day” streaming digitally airings of syndicated shows may not be worth the effort.
There may be bandwidth issues. For example, Hulu might air 22 episodes of a particular hourlong broadcast drama per season. CBS Television Distribution’s weekday talkshow “Dr. Phil,” on the other hand, has some 160 episodes airing in a given year.
But chiefly, for syndicators, there are valuable and existing deals made with stations that are the basis for earning big national TV advertising dollars.
“Why would we ever jeopardize our barter ratings?” asks Werner. “That’s an enormous source of revenue for us. A tenth of a ratings point translates into meaningful dollars.”
That said, Warner Bros. and other major TV content producers have no problem in offering up previous seasons of TV shows. Recently, Warner Bros. and CBS Corp., which co-owns the CW, made a deal with Netflix for previous seasons of CW shows.
Still, some syndicators are looking to the future — and discussions are open-ended.
“We have widespread and ongoing conversations with online outlets and digital platforms for our firstrun series,” says a CBS Television Distribution rep. “It comes down to making a business decision as to what is best for the brand (and) our station partners and how to fully monetize our content.”
Warner Bros. might do the same. But it would be the equivalent of giving viewers access to a library of older shows, should there be a market for it.
“There might be an audience for these shows on a delayed basis,” Werner says, “but not as a substitute for broadcast TV stations.”
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