Typing Faster

February 4, 2010

Sometimes Even Syndication Cannot Save You

Filed under: Kvetch, the biz — petertypingfaster @ 1:32 pm

Syndication is the brass ring that most shows strive to reach. Get to that mythical five season, one hundred episode plateau, and the cash starts rolling in. One hit syndicated series under your belt can set you up for life.

And it’s pretty good for the broadcaster as well. They get (relatively) cheap content that they can air over and over again, plugging whatever holes they might have in their schedule.

Usually it’s pretty easy for broadcasters to know what syndication rights to buy as well, in fact most purchases are no brainers. The syndication rights for Friends? Yes please! Law & Order? Sign me up!

But sometimes it’s not so cut-and-dried.

TNT’s slogan is “We Know Drama,” but maybe the cable channel doesn’t know drama as well as it thinks it does. On Wednesday, TNT parent Time Warner disclosed in its fourth-quarter report that TNT had to write down more than $100-million on its purchase of repeat rights to the old CBS crime show Without a Trace.

The channel, which has had big success with its steady diet of Law & Order reruns, was not so lucky with Without a Trace, a drama about the FBI’s Missing Person Unit, that ran on CBS from 2002 through last year. TNT bought the reruns for the show, which starred Anthony LaPaglia, in 2003 for about $1.4 million per episode. The write-down was for $104 million.

Ouch. That’s got to hurt. And it’s strange, because theoretically the purchase makes sense. Without A Trace was never a smash hit, but it was a solid little drama. Maybe not $1.4 million solid, but you could do a lot worse.

The problem really came down to shelf-life though. By the time TNT bought the rights to Without A Trace in 2004, the show’s ratings had already started to erode. Without the same promotion on the main net, the erosion got worse, and the entire show became one big soft ratings mess.

Why would TNT (over)pay for an aging series? Did they just make mistake in their valuation for the property? Or is there something else going on?

TNT bought the show from its sister company Warner Bros…

Oh wait, there it is. Vertical Integration rears its ugly head yet again!

So here’s a question for the accountants. If one company buys a product from a sister (though related) company and loses money on the purchase, is it really losing money?

Man this business is incestuous!

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1 Comment »

  1. Without a Trace was always treated like the red-headed stepchild of the Bruckheimer universe. The erosion of its ratings would never had been so abrupt and severe if the network hadn’t kept moving it to a new night every other season. Would CSI have maintained such high ratings if it had left its plum Thursday night slot and been shuffled all over the schedule? Now I am not saying that Without a Trace would have ever been as popular as CSI (so don’t anyone leap on me over that), but you can’t tell me that the shuffling schedule DIDN’T hurt the ratings. Why CBS moved it to Sunday nights just when the ratings had peaked, I’ll never know. Add in the lack of promotion (usually 4 NCIS promos to (maybe) 1 Without a Trace promo) and the show was doomed. I know it makes me sound paranoid, but somebody in the upper ranks hated Without a Trace. Show-killah.

    Then again, 7 seasons was a pretty good run. I’ve given up hope of ever getting more seasons on DVD so maybe if TNT finds an interested third party to sell the rights to, at least I could DVR it if another channel starts showing the repeats.

    Comment by Phishy — February 4, 2010 @ 3:57 pm


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