Advertisers may also reach TV viewers by advertising on syndicated programs, shows that are sold or distributed on a station-by-station, market-by market basis. A syndicator seeks to sell its program to one station in every market. There are several types of syndicated programming. Off-network syndication refers to reruns of network shows that are bought by individual stations. Shows that are popular in off-network syndication include Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Friends. The FCC prime-time access rule forbids large-market network affiliates from carrying these shows from 7 to 8 P.M., but independent stations are not affected by this restriction. A show must have a minimum number of episodes before it is eligible for syndication, and there are limits on network involvement in the financing or production of syndicated shows.
Off-network syndication shows are very important to local stations because they provide quality programming with an established audience. The syndication market is also very important to the studios that produce programs and sell them to the networks. Most prime-time network shows initially lose money for the studios, since the licensing fee paid by the networks does not cover production costs. Over four years (the time it takes to produce the 88 episodes needed to break into syndication), halfhour situation comedies often run up a deficit of millions, and losses on a one-hour drama show are even higher. However, the producers recoup their money when they sell the show to syndication.
First-run syndication refers to shows produced specifically for the syndication market. The first-run syndication market is made up of a variety of shows, including some that did not make it as network shows. Examples of popular first-run syndication shows include talk shows such as Live with Regis & Kelly and The Jerry Springer Show, entertainment shows such as Inside Edition and Entertainment Tonight, and dramas such as VIP. Advertiser-supported or barter syndication is the practice of selling shows to stations in return for a portion of the commercial time in the show, rather than (or in addition to) cash. The commercial time from all stations carrying the show is packaged into national units and sold to national advertisers. The station sells the remaining time to local and spot advertisers. Both off-network and first-run syndicated programs are offered through barter syndication. Usually, more than half of the advertising time is presold, and the remainder is available for sale by the local advertiser. Barter syndication allowsnational advertisers to participate in the syndication market with the convenience of a network-type media buy, while local stations get free programming and can sell the remainder of the time to local or spot advertisers. Recently, the straight barter deal has given way to more barter/cash arrangements, where the station pays for a program at a reduced rate and accepts a number of preplaced bartered ads. Top-rated barter syndicated programs include Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, and The Oprah Winfrey Show. Syndication now accounts for more than a third of the national broadcast audience and has become a very big business, generating ad revenue comparable to any of the big-three networks. Syndicated shows have become more popular than network shows in certain dayparts, such as daytime, early prime time, and late fringe. In some markets, syndicated shows like Wheel of Fortune draw a larger audience than the network news. Many national advertisers use syndicated shows to broaden their reach, save money, and target certain audiences. For example, off-network syndication shows such as Friends, Seinfeld, and X-Files are popular with advertisers because they reach the highly sought after, and often difficult to reach, young-adult audience (age 18 to 34) and are about 15 to 20 percent lower on a cost-per-thousand basis than network shows.
Syndication has certain disadvantages, such as more commercial time and thus more clutter. The audience for syndicated shows is often older and more rural, and syndicators do not supply as much research information as the networks do. Syndication also creates more problems for media buyers, since a syndicated show may not be seen in a particular market or may be aired during an undesirable time period. Thus, media buyers have to look at each market and check airtimes and other factors to put together a syndication schedule.