Disney and Fox found themselves wrapped up in another bidding war earlier this year, but this time around it involved vowels, consonants and answers posed in the form of questions.
The ABC Owned Television Stations group has renewed the syndicated game shows “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy” through the 2022-23 television season. The shows have aired on ABC-owned stations for decades, but the renewal process became more lively for CBS Television Distribution this time around because the Fox Television Stations group mounted a huge rival offer for the early evening stalwarts away in top markets including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Sources close to the situation said the eight ABC O&Os had to pony up sizable increases to keep the shows for the first time in years because there typically have been no rival offers to juice the market. But Fox O&Os have long had their eye on bringing “Wheel” and “Jeopardy” on fold. As the renewal came up, Fox pounced.
Knowledgeable sources said that ABC was forced to step up its offer although they did not match the offer on the table for Fox. “Wheel” and “Jeopardy” are known to command low six-figure weekly license fees in New York and L.A., the two largest TV markets.
CBS Television Distribution, which has distributed “Wheel” and “Jeopardy” since CBS acquired King World Productions in 2000, likely calculated that the audience disruption caused by a move of the shows in top markets would not be worth the extra coin offered by Fox.
Fox’s interest in the shows is a signal that the company is readying for a new era for the Fox broadcast network following the sale of other 21st Century Fox assets to Disney. The Fox network is expected to emphasize live sports, WWE and other broad-based programming, which would make “Wheel” and Jeopardy” more compelling as lead-ins than they would be with Fox’s traditional emphasis on younger audiences and edgier entertainment fare.
“The iconic game shows, ‘Wheel of Fortune’ and ‘Jeopardy’ have long been fan favorites and mainstays in our ABC Owned Stations’ television lineups,” said Wendy McMahon, president of ABC Owned Television Stations Group. “Our brands are connected in a positive way in the hearts and minds of our viewers.”
“Wheel” and “Jeopardy” have aired on ABC O&Os for decades — since 1990-91 season on WABC-TV New York and since 1992-93 on KABC-TV Los Angeles. CBS has protected ABC as the incumbent home of the shows, so much so that it never moved the highly rated shows to its own O&O stations. Sony Pictures Entertainment owns “Wheel” and “Jeopardy” (thanks it its purchase of the library of series creator Merv Griffin), and surely that studio might have objected to a station switch that could cost both shows many ratings points.
“Wheel” this season is averaging about 9.3 million viewers, while “Jeopardy” is pulling in about 9 million viewers.
ABC’s previous contract for the shows ran through the 2019-2020 season. The new three-year pact takes the shows through the 2022-23 season, which will mark year 40 for “Wheel” in syndication and year 39 for “Jeopardy.” Both shows aired daytime incarnations before they were revived for the lucrative 7-8 p.m. time slot leading into primetime.
“ ‘Wheel of Fortune’ and ‘Jeopardy’ are two of the longest-running shows on television – and for good reason,” said Steve Hackett, president of sales for CBS TV Distribution. “They consistently deliver entertaining, timeless programming that the whole family can enjoy together, creating whole new generations of fans. We’re excited they will continue to anchor stations’ lineups, delivering eyeballs and ad dollars to our partners, for many years to come.”