As more cable and broadcast programmers seek out financially viable models for original-series development, the concept of repurposing programs on cable channels continues to gain momentum.
The shift toward repurposing — or replaying a new broadcast-network program on a cable service within a short window after its premiere — has initially centered on the migration of established shows. But in the future, industry observers said, cable networks and broadcasters are more likely to collaborate on new programs.
Some operators are concerned, though. They fear a glut of repurposed fare would inevitably diminish the value of cable programming to the consumer.
Networks and broadcasters continue to seek opportunities to repurpose current series, as well as variety programs. In just the first quarter, three networks signed repurposing deals for several established shows.
E! Entertainment Television and NBC inked a deal that puts the late-night talk show Last Call With Carson Daly
on the cable channel hours after its 1:30 a.m. debut. Comedy Central has signed a similar arrangement with NBC for Late Night With Conan O'Brien. And A&E Network secured rights to re-run ABC's women-skewing morning gabfest, The View.
Those programmers joined USA Network, Turner Network Television, Lifetime Television, ABC Family and FX in the fraternity of cable networks that offer quick repeat airings of broadcast network shows. Networks who've already invested in repurposing said the returns have been positive thus far.
But the repurposed fare hasn't lit up the Nielsen Media Research meters, in terms of transferring broadcast-sized numbers to cable.
"Before repurposing was actually done, there was some speculation that offering a 6- to 8-rated broadcast show onto a 2-rated cable network would get you a huge rating," said Lifetime Television senior vice president of research Tim Brooks. "But it doesn't work that way."
Instead, repurposed shows have benefitted cable networks by increasing viewership within their core audiences. For instance, TNT's secondary airings of The WB's Charmed
averaged a modest 1 rating in April, but the show posted significant increases in the network's targeted demos.
Episodes of the series — which air on TNT one week after their The WB debut — posted significant ratings increases for TNT among adults 18 to 34 — a 63 percent jump from last April. Turner Entertainment Networks president Brad Siegel said the show draws the greatest concentration of 18-to-34 viewers of any TNT program.
Results were also strong among adults 18 to 49 (ahead 49 percent) and adults 25 to 54 (up 46 percent).
"It's definitely done what we wanted to do: It's attracting our target audience and attracting advertisers who are looking to reach that demographic," Siegel said. "It's bringing in a desirable younger audience to TNT's Tuesday-night lineup."
Once and Again
— recently canceled after four years on ABC and Lifetime — wasn't a huge ratings hit for either network. But the drama did draw more 18-to-39-year-old women to Lifetime's 11 p.m. slot than what had aired previously, said Brooks.
"Getting new women 18 to 39 is always a challenge, and the opportunity for us with Once and Again
was to get a show with an extremely loyal, very female, 18-to-49 audience," Brooks said. "We were able to bring new viewers to the network to sample Lifetime programming."
But repurposing hasn't worked for everyone. FX has not experienced the ratings and demo push it expected from Fox's 24.
The network's 12-week Monday night run of 24 —
six days after its debut on Fox — averaged a 0.43 rating, said the network. What's worse, the show only pulled in a 0.26 rating among FX's target demo audience of adults 18 to 49.
As a result, the network moved 24
up one hour, to 11 p.m., on March 18, a slot where the Kiefer Sutherland-vehicle has registered modest growth both on a household and demographic basis. FX president Peter Ligouri said serial dramas like 24
— which follows Sutherland's character, a CIA agent, through each hour of a single, tension-filled day — are a tougher sell than shows like Law and Order,
where the main storyline isn't woven into each episode.
"When you have a show with complicated storylines and somewhat greater serialization, it makes repurposing a greater challenge," Ligouri said.
From an economic perspective, both cable and broadcast executives see repurposing as an opportunity to drive down the expensive costs of producing original shows.
As production costs for even marginal series easily average from $600,000 to $700,000 per episode, executives argued, repurposed shows will generate more revenue for broadcast networks through rights fees and additional advertising revenue.
For E!, which boasts a lineup that's almost 100 percent original, producing a late-night talk show similar to Last Call With Carson Daly
would be cost-prohibitive. While the network would not reveal specific figures, E! president Mindy Herman said its deal with NBC for Daly
has provided a quality show with a loyal audience that helps it augment its target of adults 18 to 49.
"Repurposing created an economic model that allowed us to show Carson Daly," said Herman. "Without it, we wouldn't be able to offer that type of show."
Unlike most repurposing deals, which are based primarily on rights fees paid to the networks, Turner is packaging TNT and The WB's airing of Charmed
to advertisers in an effort to draw more advertisers and dollars to cable.
TNT has successfully pulled in most advertisers who'd already bought time on The WB during Charmed, said Siegel. But the network isn't collecting the same advertising rates for the show as The WB. On a CPM (cost per thousand) basis, TNT is only getting 70 percent of the WB's price for Charmed, a ratio upon which Siegel hopes to improve.
"[Advertisers] are buying [Charmed] on both The WB and TNT … it's a package deal, and we feel we should be getting the same price that The WB is getting on a CPM basis," Siegel said.
"We're delivering a similar concentration of audience and there's no duplication in audience. While we haven't been 100 percent successful, we're still getting a very good premium above our normal pricing on TNT," he added.
But at least one advertising executive isn't convinced of the added benefits of repurposing.
"Anyway you cut it, you're still reaching less households with a show on TNT than you are with that same show on The WB," said the executive.
Nevertheless Turner Broadcasting System Inc. chairman and CEO Jamie Kellner believes the repurposing model is more fiscally viable for networks, and more attractive to viewers.
"The current model [of airing a program once and waiting six months to repeat it] doesn't work [economically] in the network television business today," he said. "You can either try to cut everybody's salary, which nobody wants, or you can find other ways to exploit the programming where you can generate more revenue for advertisers."
Not all operators are convinced that repurposing is good for cable. Some MSO executives lament its widespread adoption, fearing that potentially brand-defining original shows may be replaced with less-expensive, repurposed options.
"I think too much repurposed programming limits the value of cable to the majority of consumers," said one executive with a top-10 MSO, who wished to remain anonymous. "The consumer expects original programming like The Sopranos
from cable — repeats of Charmed
or Law And Order
with a shorter window may appeal to a niche audience, but it conceivably takes up space that could be devoted to more popular original programming."
Millenium Digital Media senior vice president of marketing and programming Peter Smith said there's a fine line between the value of repurposing and repeated programming.
"We all know that reruns are part of what hurt broadcast networks historically during the summer, and I'd hate to see us do the same thing to cable programming, which has historically stayed fresh and not relied on running something that's already run," Smith said.
But Herman defended the practice, saying that one or two repurposed programs will not turn away viewers who seek original product from cable. Those extra runs also shouldn't devalue that show's worth in the syndicated market, she added.
"Having an extra run on cable has not shown itself to be a detriment to the show or to the cable operator, but instead is a benefit for the viewer," Herman said.
The arrangement actually benefits both cable and satellite operators, said Siegel. "If the consumer is watching it on The WB, then my affiliates are providing them a benefit because they're promoting to their subscribers, through us, another opportunity to show a first run show later that week.
"A repurposed version of Charmed
fills one hour of a 168 hours a week," he added. "I don't think in any way it diminishes the promise that TNT and TBS makes to the cable operator or subscriber. We're not cutting back on our originals or broadcast premieres or our sports.
"It's a mixture of programming that's part of trying to deliver the highest ratings that we can while trying to keep our programming costs in check."
But Millenium's Smith argues that operators should also share in whatever economic benefit repurposing reaps for the networks.
"From an economic standpoint, we would be a lot more comfortable with the idea of repurposing if we thought there was some economic benefit for us as an operator," he said. "If we're being asked to shoulder, in some cases, double-digit rate increases for product that includes a healthy percentage of programming from an sister outlet, then we have a problem.
"If there are economies of scale for the programmer, then there should be economies for the operator as well," Smith added.
MORE TO COME
Rather than pull back on repurposed programming, network executives said they're looking for more opportunities.
Siegel said he would like to see two or three hours of repurposed programming on the Turner networks in a given week. TNT still has an interest in repurposing other The WB shows — like Gilmore Girls
— but no viable deals are in place.
The network is also looking at several other shows, he added, but he declined to reveal specifics.
"The beauty of repurposing deals with The WB is that [the broadcast network] goes off the air at to 10 p.m., so we can still run a show in primetime," Siegel said. "It still has to be the right show, but I would like to do it two or three more times."
E!'s Herman and Comedy senior vice president of programming Kathryn Mitchell said their respective networks would also be interested in another repurposing arrangement, but added that there aren't many current broadcast or cable shows that play well to the networks' niche audiences.
Mitchell did say that the network, which is slated to air NBC's Late Night With Conan O'Brien
next September, would consider working with a broadcast network to jump-start a new series through repurposing.
Hallmark Channel has picked up rights to re-air Paramount Domestic Television's syndicated Life Moments
one week after its the daily show's initial episodes run. And it would like to get in on this action even more.
Hallmark officials have sat in on broadcast-network story pitches, looking to get in on the ground floor for shows with repurposing potential, said executive vice president of programming David Kenin.
In such a scenario, the cable and broadcast networks could share in the production costs of new series, then air them on both platforms to maximize awareness and viewership.
TNT is already exploring the upcoming lineup of The WB and Warner Bros. pilots to determine whether a repurposing arrangement could be worked out, said Siegel.
"We'll be looking at all The WB pilots and Warner Bros. pilots to take what may make sense for a multiplex or repurposed run," Siegel said. "That's really our desire.
"I think you can take a show like Smallville
or Gilmore Girls
that's been on for a couple of years, but I think you can start from day one with a show."