What is TV Syndication?
TV syndication refers to the act of selling the rights for the distribution of TV shows to different TV stations, rather than broadcasting those shows only on a single station. A production company or syndication company leases the rights to TV stations regionally, across the United States, or nationally.
Advertising sales for TV programming are done either in cash or barter, or a combination of both. In barter syndication, the TV station provides advertising slots in exchange for the rights to programming.
Also known as “off-network” syndication, rerun syndication is the most common type of TV syndication. Production companies often release reruns in syndication, allowing older shows to reach new viewers and allowing older viewers to re-experience their favorite shows. Examples of rerun syndication are the shows “Full House” and “Seinfeld” continuing to run on television well after they stopped shooting new episodes.
Network shows like The Big Bang Theory or Modern Family can achieve new life through off-network syndication. Cable channels such as the USA network and public broadcast stations often present reruns of network programming.
First-run syndication is programming created to be sold into syndication and broadcast for the first time as a syndicated show. Releasing first-run shows in syndication is an effective way to reach a more broad audience. An example of first-run syndication is when a TV show is first produced and run for an audience in Canada and then is syndicated to audiences in the United States.
History of Television Syndication
Television syndication began in the late 1940s with syndication pioneer Ziv’s distribution of Fireside Theater in 1949. Syndication became more prevalent in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Until that point, television stations were typically affiliated with one of the major television networks. Network affiliates ran their programming for the hours that they broadcasted and only provided programming for part of the day. This meant that demand for syndicated programming was relatively low. The increase in the number of stations and demand for “filler” programming led to a rise in syndication beginning in the 1960s.
At the time, the only way to receive television signals was over the airwaves, with network-affiliated stations in the VHF range and independent stations in the UHF range. Network television had a clear advantage over independent stations in the range of their broadcast signals and the money to produce new content.
In the early 1970s, regulatory changes forced the networks to separate from syndication companies. This led to the development of more independent stations. An increase in demand for programming by independent Syndication gave TV stations with limited budgets the opportunity to provide popular content without having to bankroll original programming.
First-Run Syndication in the U.S.
Syndication allows new programming to have a national reach as local stations across the United States buy the right to broadcast syndicated programs. This enables shows that might otherwise only reach regional audiences to become nationwide cultural phenomena.
How Does TV Syndication Benefit Advertisers?
TV syndication gives individual stations the ability to broadcast popular programming without having to pay for the production of new programs. The production of new films and new episodes of television programs costs millions of dollars, mainly if big-name stars are involved or if shows require expensive special effects, such as is the case with Star Trek and similar science fiction programming.
Advertisers can reach loyal audiences at a lower cost by sponsoring syndicated programming. Reruns already have an established audience that often enjoys re-watching television. First-run programs and movie features benefit from economies of scale. A local station only has to support a fraction of the production cost for a new series to buy the rights.
Commonly Syndicated Programs
Historically, network TV programming that distributors released through syndication include:
- TV shows that were popular abroad and re-released in the US
- Reruns of popular network shows
- Daily and weekly dramas and comedies
- Cartoons & children’s programming
Game shows, talk shows, and, more recently, reality TV shows are attractive candidates for syndication because they have wide appeal nationally and are relatively inexpensive to produce.
Some of the most popular syndicated TV programs have been dramas, including Magnum, P.I. in the 1980s, NYPD Blue in the 1990s, LOST in the 21st century, and many others. Dramas often take coveted prime time slots due to their ability to engage audiences.
Reruns of dramatic programs in syndication are a frequent source of advertising targeting particular age groups and demographics. Dramas that are more popular with male or female viewers (Star Trek vs. Gilmore Girls) reach distinct audience segments.
Shows that depict a bygone era, such as Happy Days, The Waltons, and Little House on the Prairie, evoke nostalgia, as do reruns of old programs, such as Leave it to Beaver. Medical, legal, and police procedural shows offer a sense of control over health and personal safety in an uncertain world. Advertisers can tailor advertisements to the feelings that each show evokes.
First-run syndicated news programming, especially tabloid news programs such as Entertainment Tonight and A Current Affair, has been long-running and popular. By its nature, news programming is not well suited for syndication in reruns, although clips may appear as documentary footage in syndicated documentary programs.
Talk shows have been enduring favorites with name recognition due to thought-provoking, and sometimes incendiary, topics. Examples of successful syndicated talk shows include The Maury Povich Show, Donahue, The Jerry Springer Show, Dr. Phil, and The Oprah Winfrey Show.
These shows often have human interest topics and show personal conflicts. Law firms, political advertising, charities, and other sponsors who aim to connect with the audience’s thirst for justice often support these shows.
Family Feud, Jeopardy, and Wheel of Fortune lead the pack for syndicated game shows, but many others have come and gone over the past half-century. Game shows can attract large prime-time audiences.
First-run game shows and reruns from past decades are common filler programming for morning and afternoon slots. Advertisements often target retired viewers who are home during the day.
Reality and Live-Action Children’s Shows
Some of the most long-running shows in syndication are courtroom shows such as The People’s Court, Divorce Court, and Judge Judy. More recently, syndicated reality shows based on life experiences, such as Big Brother and competition shows like Hell’s Kitchen, have become popular. True crime shows also draw steady audiences.
Reality shows often fulfill the audience’s need for conflict and justice in everyday settings. Advertisements for cars and other products that symbolize life success, as well as personal injury lawyers, can tap into the audience’s desires.
Syndicated television programming on American public television, particularly Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street, have been enduring favorites for children and families for generations. Donors are the primary support for children’s programming on public broadcast networks and broadcast syndication networks through charitable foundations and pledge drives.
Similar shows on network affiliates and independent stations, such as Barney & Friends, are frequently syndicated. Manufacturers of children’s products such as toys, breakfast cereals, and baby care products often sponsor these shows.
Types of Syndication
Syndication companies offer programming rights in different formats. Advertisers should consider the advantages and limitations of each type when incorporating them into a marketing strategy.
Radio syndication offers an opportunity to sponsor syndicated radio programs on radio stations, often at a lower cost than ad buys for TV programs.
Strip syndication refers to selling the rights to a daily TV show that is typically broadcast at the same time every day by a particular market. For example, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy typically run at 7:00 and 7:30 on Monday through Friday so that loyal viewers can watch them at a consistent time.
One cost-effective option is to buy advertising space for weekly shows. Many shows, particularly in prime time, only run one episode per week, allowing stations to show different programs in a given slot for the week.
If a product appeals to a particular demographic, such as Southern fans of country music programming or local viewers in a specific geographic location (for instance, potential customers of a local car dealership), advertising on regionally-syndicated programming may be more cost-effective than a national ad buy.
International syndication can refer to the distribution of American television shows to other countries and the distribution of foreign television within the United States. Britcoms and other British programming are popular in the US, as are many Canadian dramas.
International syndication is an effective way to reach an audience to promote products that are available internationally and have cross-cultural appeal.
Subtitles or dubbing can complicate the international syndication of foreign-language TV. However, the success of programs such as Dark and Squid Game on video streaming services demonstrates that English-speaking audiences will follow foreign-language dramas.
Remnant Advertising During Syndicated Programs
Remnant advertising is a highly cost-effective way to promote your brand or business on syndicated programming. Remnant advertising involves buying advertising slots that are still unsold just before run time and are therefore available at discount rates.
At The Remnant Agency, we specialize in buying remnant advertising slots on syndicated television programs. To buy remnant advertising or to learn more about buying remnant advertising on syndicated programs, television advertising, or OTT advertising contact us today to schedule a consultation.