is the practice of selling rights to the presentation of television
programs, especially to more than one customer such as a television
station, a cable channel, or a programming service such as a national
broadcasting system. The syndication of television programs is a
fundamental financial component of television industries. Long a
crucial factor in the economics of the U.S. industry, syndication
is now a worldwide activity involving the sales of programming produced
in many countries.
syndicator is a firm which acquires the rights to programs for purposes
of marketing them to additional customers. The syndication marketplace
in fact provides the bulk of programming seen by the public. For
the internal U.S. market, for example, syndication is the source
of the "reruns" often seen on network television, and of much material
seen on cable networks. Internationally, large amounts of American
television programming are sold through syndication for programming
alongside material produced locally. Material not available in syndication
includes current network prime time programs, live news programs
and live coverage of sporting and other special events. Even current
U.S. programs, however, may be syndicated in international markets,
and American viewers may sometimes see imported programs, usually
from England, currently programmed in other countries.
price for a syndicated television series is determined by its success
with audiences and the number and type of "run" in which the program
appears. A national run is the presentation of a film or program
one time to a national audience. This notion of national run has
been borrowed from the history of distributing theatrical films.
Any number of theaters or communities may be included in the first
run of a production. But as soon as any location receives a second
presentation, the second national run has begun. Generally speaking,
the cost of rights to present a television series declines as it
is presented in later and later runs although, as indicated below,
that rule does not always hold in the international market.
sales of television programs, both within the United States and
throughout the world, has long been central to the profitability
of the American television industry. Soon after U.S. television
production shifted from live performance to film in the late 1950s,
shrewd sales personnel realized that television products had additional
life. Audiences would, in fact, watch the same program a second
time, and perhaps return for repeated viewing. Moreover, many countries
found it far more economical to purchase the syndicated rights to
American television programs than to produce their own, opening
a vast market for American products.
cost of U.S. television programming in the international market
place is generally based on whatever those markets will bear. Costs
for programs in Europe are often far higher than in Africa or Latin
America. No matter how small the syndication fee, however, the sales
of programming produce additional income for their original production
companies. In abstract economic terms this is an example of "public
good theory," in which new profits are gained at no additional costs
or at the marginal costs incurred in the marketing process.
syndication, whether domestic or international, served to underwrite
the risky process of producing for American network television.
From the late 1960s through the mid-1990s special regulations (the
Financial Interest and Syndication Rules) governed relations between
television networks and independent production companies. Under
these rules ownership of the rights to the programs reverted to
the producer/production company after a specified number of network
runs. Profits from any other sales, including syndication, generally
benefited the production community. For this reason many production
companies were willing to produce original programs at a loss, betting
on the enormous income that might rise from successful syndication.
Many "failed" programs could be created with the profits from one
or two successfully syndicated shows.
way of classifying television programs in the syndication marketplace
is by the first national run of the program. If the first run of
a program was as part of a national network schedule, then as the
program is marketed for subsequent runs to other programmers, it
is referred to as "off-network syndication." Thus a cable programmer
who buys the rights to presentation of a situation comedy presented
by NBC is buying off-network syndication. Dallas, presented
in first run on CBS in the 1978 season, was heavily programmed throughout
the world as an off-network syndication.
a program is initially made to be sold to programmers other than
the major networks, however, then the program is known as "first
run syndication." An example would be the weekly program, Star
Search with Ed McMahon, produced by Television Program
Executives (T. P. E.) and Bob Banner Associates. Similarly, Paramount
Television's Star Trek: The Next Generation and other Star
Trek spinoffs are produced for first run syndication. On occasion,
a television program originally developed for network programming
will be shifted into the first run syndication mode. This is the
case with Bay Watch, a program that failed to attract a sufficient
audience when programmed by NBC in 1989, and was canceled after
a single season. It then went into production as a first run syndicated
product and has become enormously successful in international markets.
Annual NAPTE syndicators convention
Photo courtesy of NAPTE
run syndication is often the origin of programs presented as programming
"strips," that is, at the same time Monday through Friday. This
is the case with Entertainment Tonight, another Paramount
production and also with numerous programs in the "tabloid TV" genre,
game shows, and cartoons.
syndication is a financial arrangement that supports a growing segment
of the syndication marketplace. In barter syndication an advertiser
purchases in advance all or some part of the advertising opportunities
(commercial spots) in a syndicated program, no matter where the
production is to be seen in any run. The advertiser benefits from
the barter arrangement by insuring a friendly program environment
for ads. The programmer--an independent station or a cable programmer--benefits
because advertising slots are presold, assuring that the cost to
acquire the program is at least partially covered. While this practice
may reduce opportunities for the programmer to sell advertising
time, the trade-off is considered a favorable one. The producer
of the program also benefits because the prior purchase of advertising
opportunities provides funds that may represent an important part
of the production budget.
syndication is part of the worldwide television marketplace and
here the producers are not always part of the U.S. industry. Brazilian,
Venezuelan, and Mexican telenovelas are programmed throughout the
Spanish-speaking world and even in less predictable contexts such
as India and Russia. British programming is seen in the United States
and throughout Europe and the rest of the world. In these cases
and many others, syndication is seen as an economic benefit. As
in the American context, the profits generated by syndication can
be used to produce other material on a speculative basis and to
bolster the production of the first-run production process. As television
distribution channels proliferate throughout the world and the demand
for product to fill those channels grows, it is likely that more
and more producers in more and more contexts will create materials
for sale to the syndication market.
Jay G. "Prospects for Creativity in the New Television Marketplace:
Evidence from Program Makers." Journal of Communication (New
York), Autumn, 1990.
William G., Jr. "The Financial Interest and Syndication Rules in
Retrospect: History and Analysis." Communications and the Law
(New York), June, 1994.
James E. "The Syndication Marketplace." In, Alexander, Allison,
James Owers, and Rod Carveth, editors. Media Economics: Theory
and Practice. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates,
of Syndication Terms." Advertising Age (New York), 16 April
Kaplar, Richard T. The Financial Interest and Syndication Rules:
Prime Time for Repeal. Washington, D.C.: Media Institute, 1990.
P.N. "Distribution: A Disorderly Dissertation." In, Squires, J.E.
The Movie Business Book. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice
in the 1990s." Advertising Age (New York), 10 April 1995. "What
is Syndication." Advertising Age (New York), 16 May 1994.
Steven S. and Stephen E. Siwek. International Trade in Films
and Television Programs. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Ballinger,
also Cable Networks;
and Syndication Rules; International
Television Program Markets; National
Association of Television Programming Executives; Prime
Time Access Rule; Programming;