In broadcasting, syndication is the sale of the right to broadcast radio shows and television shows to multiple individual stations, without going through a broadcast network. It is common in countries where television is scheduled by networks with local affiliates, particularly in the United States. In the rest of the world, however, most countries have centralized networks without local affiliates and syndication is less common, although shows can also be syndicated internationally.
When syndicating a show, the production company, or a distribution company or "syndicator", usually attempts to sell the show to one station in each media market or area, in the country and around the world. If successful, this can be lucrative; but the syndicator may only be able to sell the show in a small percentage of the markets.
Syndication differs from selling the show to a television network; once a network picks up a show, it is usually guaranteed to run on most or all the network's affiliates, on the same day of the week and at the same time (in a given timezone, in countries where this is a concern). Some production companies create their shows and sell them to networks at a loss, at least at first, hoping that the series will succeed and that eventual off-network syndication will turn a profit for the show.
A syndicated program is sold to stations for "cash" (rights are purchased by the stations to insert some or all of the ads at their level); given to stations for access to airtime (wherein the syndicators get the ad revenue); or the combination of both. The trade of program for airtime is called "barter."
While market penetration can vary widely and revenues can be unreliable, the producers often enjoy more content-freedom in the absence of network standards and practice officials; frequently, some innovative ideas are explored by first-run syndicated programming, which the networks are leery of giving airtime to. Meanwhile, top-rated syndicated shows in the United States usually have a domestic market reach of 98%.
Very often, series that are aired in syndication are cut. For example a standard American sitcom runs 22 minutes, but in syndication it may be cut back to 20 minutes to make room for more commercials.
Syndication can take the form of either weekly or daily syndication. The game shows, some "tabloid" and entertainment news shows, and stripped talk shows are broadcast daily or week-daily, while most other first-run syndicated shows are broadcast weekly.
As with radio in the U.S., television networks, particularly in their early years, did not offer a full-day's-worth of programming for their affiliates, even in the evening or "prime time" hours. Some stations were not affiliated with any network. Both groups sought to supplement their locally produced programming and whatever network feeds there were with content that could be flexibly scheduled. The development of videotape and, much later, enhanced satellite downlink access furthered these options. While most past first-run syndicated shows were shown only in syndication, some canceled network shows continued to be produced for first-run syndication or were revived for syndication several years after their original cancellation.
Ziv Television Programs, Inc., after establishing itself as a major radio syndicator, was the first major first-run television syndicator, creating several long-lived series in the 1950s and selling them directly to regional sponsors, who in turn sold the shows to local stations. Among the most famous and widely watched Ziv offerings were Sea Hunt and Highway Patrol. Some first-run syndicated series were picked up by networks in the 1950s and early '60s, notably The Adventures of Superman and Mr. Ed. The networks started syndicating their reruns in the late 1950s, and first-run syndication shrank sharply, for a decade (CBS's first syndication arm, Viacom, would eventually be split off from the company and eventually come back to purchase CBS, having already purchased Paramount Pictures and its interests, and created UPN). Some stalwart series continued, notably Death Valley Days; other ambitious projects were also to flourish, however briefly, such as The Play of the Week (1959 - 1961), produced by David Susskind (of the syndicated talk show Open End and also producer of such network fare as NYPD).
However, FCC rulings in the late 1960s curtailed the U.S. networks' ability to schedule programming in what has become known as the "early fringe", notably the 7-8pm (ET/PT) hour of "prime time", with the stated hope that this might encourage more local programming of social and cultural relevance to communities (off-network syndie repeats were also banned); some projects of this sort came to fruition, though usually relatively commercial and slick ones such as the Group W Evening Magazine/PM Magazine franchise, and such pre-existing national projects as the brief commercial-television run of William F. Buckley, Jr.'s interview/debate series Firing Line. The more obvious result was a rash of Canadian-produced syndicated dramatic series, such as the Gilligan's Island knock-off Dusty's Trail and the Colgate-sponsored Dr. Simon Locke; game shows, often evening editions of network afternoon series, flourished, and a few odd items such as Wild Kingdom, cancelled by NBC in 1971, had a continuing life as syndicated programming tailor-made for the early fringe.
Into the 1970s, first-run syndication continued to be an odd mix: cheaply produced, but not always poor-quality, "filler" programming. These included the dance-music show Soul Train, and 20th Century Fox's That's Hollywood, a television variation on the popular That's Entertainment! theatrically released collections of film clips from the MGM library.
There were also many imported programs distributed this way. These include the documentary series Wild, Wild World of Animals (repackaged by Time Life with narration by William Conrad) and Thames Television's sober and necessarily grim The World at War. The Starlost (1973) was a Canadian series, apparently modified from the vision of science fiction writers Harlan Ellison and Ben Bova. UFO (1970) and (1975) came from British producer Gerry Anderson and his partner Lew Grade, previously best-known for their Supermarionation (puppet/animation) series, like Thunderbirds. The most successful syndicated show in the US in the 1970s was probably The Muppet Show, also from Lew Grade.
Game shows thrived in syndication in the decade. Five-day-a-week versions of What's My Line? and To Tell the Truth premiered in the late '60s and found loyal audiences until 1975 and 1978, respectively. Several daytime network games began producing once-a-week night-time versions for the early-evening hours, usually with bigger prizes and often featuring different hosts (emcees were limited to appearing on one network and one syndicated game simultaneously) and modified titles (Match Game PM, The $100,000 Name That Tune or The $25,000 Pyramid, for example). Of these shows, Let's Make a Deal and The Hollywood Squares were the first to jump to twice-a-week syndicated versions around 1973. The night-time version of Family Feud (1977) quickly jumped from once-weekly to twice, and finally to five-days-a-week, and its massive popularity, along with that of new five-a-day entries like Jack Barry's The Joker's Wild (1977) and Tic Tac Dough (1978) and Chuck Barris's increasingly-raunchy remakes of his '60s hits The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game, brought an end (with rare exceptions) to the era of once-a-week games. Also popular in first-run syndication and daytime was The Gong Show, hosted by Barris throughout most of its run.
Wait Till Your Father Gets Home (1973) was a Hanna-Barbera cartoon series attempting to ape the All in the Family-style sitcoms; Skippy the Bush Kangaroo (1969) was an Australian children's series in the manner of Flipper or Gentle Ben (a decade later, the decidedly not-for-children Australian Prisoner: Cell Block H would have a brief US syndicated run); and a Canadian sketch-comedy series began appearing on U.S. television stations in 1977 - Second City Television would eventually find a home, for two seasons, on NBC, as SCTV Network 90 (and on cable station Cinemax later).
The Universal / Paramount-produced package of original programming, Operation Prime Time, began appearing on ad hoc quasi-networks of (almost by necessity) non-network stations in the U.S. in 1978, with a mini-series adaptation of John Jakes's The Bastard.
From the latter '60s into the late '70s, Westinghouse also found considerable success with The Mike Douglas Show, a variety/talk show hosted by a singer with an easygoing interview style, which played in afternoons in most markets; similar programs soon followed featuring Merv Griffin, who had been the host of CBS's most sustained late-night answer to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson previously, and another network veteran, Dinah Shore. Also notable was the growing success of audience-participation talk shows, particularly that of the innovator of the format, Phil Donahue.
First-run syndication in the 1970s also made it possible for some shows no longer wanted by network television to remain on the air. In 1971, ABC cancelled The Lawrence Welk Show, which went on to produce new episodes in syndication for another 11 years, and currently continues to much success in weekend reruns (with new segments featuring Welk cast members inserted within the episodes) distributed to PBS stations by the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority. Also in 1971, CBS dropped Lassie and Hee Haw, the latter show's run ending as part of the network's cancellation of all of its rural-oriented shows (see The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres). Lassie entered first-run syndication for two years, while Hee Haw continued to produce new episodes until 1992.
Throughout the mid to late 1980s, sitcoms continued to enter first-run syndication after being cancelled by the networks, the most successful of which were Mama's Family and Charles In Charge. Other sitcoms during this time to enter first-run syndication after network cancellation included Silver Spoons, Punky Brewster, Webster, It's a Living, Too Close for Comfort and What's Happening!! (retitled as What's Happening Now!!). Many of these sitcoms produced new shows in syndication mainly to have enough episodes for a profitable run in rerun syndication. Other sitcoms, such as Small Wonder, enjoyed success in syndication throughout the entire run.
During the latter 1980s and early 1990s and throughout the remainder of the decade there was a resurgence of dramatic first-run syndicated programs, many of them in the science fiction and fantasy fields, or adventure dramas with fantastic elements. debuted in 1987 and became one of the most-watched syndicated shows throughout its seven-year run. The next syndicated show that debuted in 1988 was War of the Worlds. Baywatch, which debuted in 1989 on NBC and was cancelled after one season also became one of the most-watched syndicated shows throughout its ten-year-run, garnering a worldwide audience. was also syndicated. and its spin-off series helped build the audiences for such shows; Babylon 5 and Forever Knight drew devoted "cult" audiences; Psi Factor and attempted to draw on the audience for the FOX series The X-Files (as did, even less probably, the short-lived spinoff Baywatch Nights). Among the slightly less fantastic series were Relic Hunter and VIP, She Spies and Once a Thief. In 1997, , based on ideas from Gene Roddenberry, premiered in syndication. Three years later, a second Gene Roddenberry series, Andromeda also premiered in syndication. In 2008, Disney-ABC Domestic Television and ABC Studios teamed up with Sam Raimi to launch a new first-run syndicated TV series Legend of the Seeker, based on Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth novel series.
Also in the 1980s, news programming of various sorts began to be offered widely to stations. Independent Network News, which was produced at WPIX studios in New York City, was a half-hour weekdaily program that ran for several years on independent stations; CNN would offer a package of its Headline News to broadcast stations later. Entertainment Tonight began its long and continuing run as a "soft" news daily strip, with a number of imitations following; and "tabloid" television, in the wake of ABC's 20/20 and, more immediately, FOX's A Current Affair, would become a syndication staple with such series as Extra and Real TV.
Another area where network dominance was challenged by syndicated programming in the 1980s was in late-night talk shows; The Arsenio Hall Show was the only very successful one, but Alan Thicke's earlier shortlived Thicke of the Night, Lauren Hutton's innovatively-shot Lauren Hutton and..., and Dennis Miller, Whoopi Goldberg, David Brenner and Keenan Ivory Wayans attempted similar programs; Magic Johnson's The Magic Hour was seen as a massive flop.
As UPN and the WB began offering their affiliates ever-more nights of primetime programming, less call has been felt for first-run drama, at least, in the U.S.; much as with the closing of windows that provided opportunity for Ziv in the '50s and various producers in the early '70s. The more expensive dramatic projects are less attractive to syndicators (particularly when they might be sold, with somewhat less risk, to cable channels); "reality" series such as Cheaters and Maximum Exposure and several series about dating stunts began to be more common in the early 2000s. Some of the more low-key programs in this category were designed to appeal to children, such as Beakman's World, Animal Rescue and Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures. They were able to get significant clearance because of stricter FCC enforcement of rules on children's programming.
Several game shows are currently syndicated; the most popular by far are Wheel Of Fortune and the late version of Jeopardy!, premiering in 1983 and 1984 respectively. The shows have been 1-2 or 1-3 in the syndication ratings consistently since at least the late 1980's. In fact, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, Wheel is the most popular syndicated television program not only in the United States, but worldwide as well. Family Feud ended its first syndication run in 1985; a revival was a moderate hit from 1988-1995 and still another revival has been airing since 1999. By far the most successful entry into the market in the 2000s has been the daily version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, premiering in 2002.
New game show concepts (that is, not based on an existing or pre-existing format) are rarely tried and usually unsuccessful in syndication; Street Smarts was somewhat of an exception. A Hollywood Squares revival also thrived beginning in 1998, running six seasons until its 2004 cancellation. Between 2003 and 2007, no new games debuted in syndication, marking four consecutive seasons where no new game show debuted, a syndication first. The Fall 2007 debuts of Temptation and Merv Griffin's Crosswords helped stop that streak, bringing the daytime tally to six game shows; both ended production after one year, though Crosswords remains in reruns.
More new shows were added for Fall 2008, including a daytime run of Deal or No Deal and an adaptation of the popular board game Trivial Pursuit. Deal appears to have caught on and may return, Trivial Pursuit has suffered low ratings and likely will not.
The dominant form of first-run syndication in the U.S. for the last three decades has been the "stripped" talk show, such as Donahue, Oprah Winfrey, The Tyra Banks Show, and The Jerry Springer Show. In many markets, a stripped show will be seen twice daily, usually with different episodes. Sometimes, station groups with more than one station in a market, or a "duopoly", will run one episode of a strip on one of their stations in the morning, and the other available episode on another of their stations that night. Meanwhile, the popularity of some of the audience-participation talk shows continues to encourage new participants, some of whom, such as Morton Downey, Jr. and Rosie O'Donnell, have brief periods of impressive ratings and influence; others, such as Oprah Winfrey and Maury Povich, have a sustained run. A notable scheduling decision was made by KRON-TV in San Francisco. A 2000 dispute with NBC led to their disaffiliation from that network after 52 years, and since all the other larger networks were already represented in San Francisco, KRON decided to become one of the largest-market independent commercial stations on the VHF band in the U.S., and soon tried running Dr. Phil, a popular new stripped series hosted by Winfrey-associate Phil McGraw, in primetime, with impressive ratings results.
While in earlier times, independent TV stations thrived on syndicated programming (including some venerable and quite profitable stations such as KMSP in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market), with the loosening of FCC regulations and the creation of new additional TV networks (Fox, The CW, MyNetworkTV and ION Television), most of these independents have joined one or another of these or smaller (religious or low-budget) networks. In another case, like those of KCAL in Los Angeles, KMCI of Lawrence, Kansas-Kansas City and WMLW-CA in Milwaukee, those independent stations are used to compliment their network affiliate sister station (KCBS, KSHB and WDJT, respecitvely) by allowing a duopoly control of more syndicated programming than would be possible on one station (and to spread it throughout the schedule of the two stations, often several times a day), or to air news programming in times unavailable on the larger network station. A duopoly of a network-independent station also allows a network station to move a low rated syndicated program to their sister independent channel to stem revenue losses.
It is commonly said in the U.S. industry that "syndication is where the real money is" when producing a TV show. In other words, while the initial run of any particular television series may theoretically lose money for its producing studio, the ensuing syndication will generate enough profit to balance out any losses.
Off-network syndication occurs when a network television show is syndicated in packages containing some or all episodes, and sold to as many television stations/markets as possible. Sitcoms (short for "situation comedies") often do better in syndication than some dramatic shows due to the fact that most sitcoms have few ongoing storylines; a viewer can tune into many half-hour sitcoms without worrying about having missed the last episode. With some dramatic series, missing an episode can throw off the viewer, even if the episode itself is a self-contained story. Moreover, syndicators and stations often will run episodes of some series out-of-order to satisfy other requirements at the expense of viewer satisfaction; this is less costly for sitcoms than other shows with more pronounced serial elements.
Syndication has been known to spur the popularity of a series that only experienced moderate success during its original network run. The most notable example of this is Star Trek, which ran for three seasons on NBC from 1966 to 1969, but became a worldwide cult phenomenon after it entered off-network syndication, the success of which ultimately led to the Star Trek film series and the made-for-syndication revival and three other series. Another example is The Brady Bunch.
Cable stations have been known to vie among themselves for off-net syndication. Other series seen on multiple cable channels simultaneously were often being shared by channels which had the same corporate owners.
In recent years, more and more fee plugs have appeared during off-network syndication non-game shows. Some of these fees charged pay for the distribution and editing of these shows for syndication, while others pay for closed captioning and promotional consideration.
In any event, the amount of stations airing syndicated shows depends on which station in a particular market airs a particular show.
Sometimes, how a program is acquired for syndication varies. In the case of shows syndicated by one company, stations loyal to the company generally have first choice on any program it offers. For other shows syndicated by other companies, the syndication rights may be auctioned off to the highest bidder in a particular market.
The rise in popularity of infomercials in the 1980s and 1990s has resulted in a marked decrease in the number of older off-network syndicated series being aired by American and Canadian broadcasters, many of which now air paid programming such as infomercials during the overnight hours formerly occupied by old series reruns.
Off-network syndication can take several forms. The most common form is known as strip syndication or daily syndication, when episodes of a television series are shown daily five times a week. Typically, this means that enough episodes must exist to allow for continual strip syndication to take place over the course of several months, without episodes being shown again. If a small number of episodes exist, the entire run of the series can be shown in a matter of weeks. As explained by David Crane (creator and executive producer of Friends), "A show will go in syndication for sure when it has reached its 5th year or 100th episode. If a Network Show only runs for 2 years or so there is usually no demand for syndication." However, there are exceptions, such as the option is the 65-episode block (common in Children's programming), which allows for a 13-week cycle of daily showings, so there will only be four repeats in a year.
In some cases, more than one episode is shown daily. Half-hour sitcoms are sometimes syndicated in groups of two or four episodes, taking up one or two hours of broadcast time.
If a series is not strip syndicated, it may be aired once a week, instead of five times a week. This allows shows with fewer episodes to last long in syndication, but it also may mean viewers will tire of waiting a week for the next episode of a show they have already seen and stop watching. More often, hourlong dramas in their first several runs in syndication are offered weekly; sitcoms are more likely to get stripped. In recent years there has been something of a trend toward showing two consecutive episodes of a program on Saturday and Sunday nights after prime time (generally following the local news). This pattern has been particularly prominent for shows which are still in production but have run long enough to have many episodes.
As with commercial stations, not all the air time nor all the perceived audience are met by the productions offered U.S. public-broadcasting stations by PBS; additionally, there are some independent public stations in the U.S. which take no programming from that (somewhat) decentralized network. As a result, there are several syndicators of programming for the non-profit stations, several of which are descendants of the regional station groups which combined some, not all, of their functions into the creation of PBS in 1969. American Public Television (APT) is the largest of these, nearly matched by NETA, the National Educational Telecommunications Association; similarly, the recently defunct Continental Program Marketing was another of the syndicator-descendants (of the Northeastern, Southeastern, and Rocky Mountain educational networks, respectively) of the pre-PBS era. Among the other notable organizations in the U.S. are Westlink Satellite Operations (based at Albuquerque's KNME), BBC Worldwide Americas (which often works with other distributors and individual stations, since it has no satellite access of its own in the U.S.), Deutsche Welle, Executive Program Services, the Program Resource Group and its member-station WLIW, Long Island, NY's PBS station, which is (with the arguable exception of KNME) the most prolific contributor of any individual station of syndicated programming, most obviously the BBC World News, Doctor Who and Monty Python's Flying Circus in the U.S.
Radio syndication generally works the same way as in television, except that radio stations usually are not organized into strict affiliate-only networks. Radio networks generally are only distributors of programming, and individual stations (though often owned by large conglomerates) decide which shows to carry from a wide variety of networks and independent providers. As a result, radio networks like Westwood One or Premiere Radio Networks, despite their influence in broadcasting, are not as recognized among the general public as television networks like CBS or ABC. Some examples of widely-syndicated commercial music programs include weekly countdowns like Rick Dees' Weekly Top 40, the American Top 40, the Canadian Hit 30 Countdown, and the nightly program, Delilah, heard on many U.S. stations.
Syndication is particularly popular in talk radio). While syndicated music shows (with the exception of some evening and overnight shows such as Delilah mentioned above) tend to air once a week and mostly recorded, most popular talk radio programs are syndicated daily and live. Also, with a relative dearth in 24-hour talk radio networks, most radio stations are free to assemble their own lineup of talk show hosts as they so choose. Examples of syndicated talk programs are Premiere Radio Networks' Rush Limbaugh Show, Talk Radio Network's The Savage Nation, and ABC Radio Networks' Imus in the Morning. Talk syndication tends to be more prevalent because voice tracking, a practice used by many music stations to have disc jockeys host multiple supposedly local shows at once, is not feasible with talk radio.
National Public Radio, Public Radio International, and American Public Media all sell programming to local public radio member stations in the U.S., in contrast to true public radio networks like Canada's CBC, which owns all of its stations.Two independently-produced, non-commercial syndicated programs, heard on hundreds of community radio and indie radio stations, are Alternative Radio and Pacifica's Democracy Now!.
Some radio programs are also offered on a barter system usually at no charge to the radio station. The system is used for live programming or preproduced programs and include a mixture of ad time sold by the program producer as well as time set aside for the radio station to sell.
Before radio networks matured in the United States, some early radio shows were reproduced on transcription disks and mailed to individual stations. An example of syndication using this method was RadiOzark Enterprises, Inc. based in Springfield, Missouri, co-owned with KWTO-AM. The Assembly of God, with national headquarters in Springfield, sponsored a half-hour program on the station called Sermons in Song. RadiOzark began transcribing the show for other stations in the 1940s, and eventually 200 stations carried the program. The company later produced country music programs starring among others, Smiley Burnette, George Morgan, Bill Ring and Tennessee Ernie Ford (260 15-minute episodes of The Tennessee Ernie Show were distributed), and more than 1,200 U.S. and Canadian stations aired the programs.
Many syndicated radio programs were distributed through the US mail or other delivery service, although the medium changed as technology developed, going from transcription disks to phonograph records, tape recordings, cassette tapes and eventually CDs. Many smaller weekend programs still use this method to this day, though with the rise of the Internet, many stations have since opted to distribute programs via CD-quality MP3s through FTP downloads.
It was not until the advent of satellite communications in the 1980s that live syndication became popular (though it could be transmitted through network wires, it was not particularly common). Shortly after satellite networks such as Talknet, Transtar and SMN began, the Fairness Doctrine was repealed, which is credited with helping Rush Limbaugh become the first national talk radio superstar. As the 1990s went on, Dr. Laura and Howard Stern began their national shows, rising to become national icons.
After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, syndicated talk radio saw a notably rapid rise in popularity, as networks rushed hosts such as Laura Ingraham, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck into syndication around this time.
Syndication also applies to international markets. Same language countries often syndicate programs to each other- such as programs from the United Kingdom being syndicated to Australia and vice versa. Another example would be programs from the United Kingdom, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina being syndicated to local TV stations in the United States, and programs from the United States being syndicated elsewhere in the world.
One of the best-known internationally syndicated television series has been The Muppet Show, which was produced in the United Kingdom and shown on ITV, and appeared around the world, including the United States, where it aired in syndication, and Canada, where CBC Television aired the show. Many soaps, and long running series are also successfully syndicated around the globe.
For the week ending January 26 - February 1, 2009, Wheel of Fortune (CBS Television Distribution) drew 12,712,000 viewers. It topped Jeopardy (10,270,000) and Two & A Half Men (9,038,000). Friends ranked at number 20 (3,872,000).