Why Cable Channels Don't Mind Airing Reruns

May 25, 2012
Originally published on May 25, 2012 8:09 am
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TV is chock full of reruns, from the recent "CSI" to the vintage "I Love Lucy." It's been that way for years, and is especially so on cable. As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, one result is that syndication deals have become a much bigger part of the TV business.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Reruns are no longer seen as filler. Case in point: repeats of "The Big Bang Theory" on cable channel TBS.


BLAIR: Repeats of "The Big Bang Theory" made TBS one of the highest-rated cable networks with 18-49 year olds during prime time. On some nights, they'll air up to six episodes of "Big Bang Theory" back-to-back.


MICHAEL WRIGHT: "The Big Bang Theory" was, to us, smart, young, funny, relevant, but also, it's a very big-hearted show.

BLAIR: Michael Wright heads up programming for TBS, TNT and Turner Classic Movies. He won't confirm it, but they reportedly paid over a million dollars per episode. He says reruns of a hit show can not only boost ratings, they can serve as great lead-ins for original programs. He says take repeats of "Law and Order" on TNT.

WRIGHT: "Law and Order" was routinely hitting two million in the demo.


BLAIR: TNT wanted to see if they could keep those viewers for the new show they launched in 2005: "The Closer."

WRIGHT: We launched "The Closer" out of that consistent million-five to two million demo rating. That's a pretty nice tee up.


BLAIR: Final episodes of "The Closer" air this summer. And then it will surely have another life in reruns. They're everywhere. Repeats of "Glee" will air on Oxygen. Repeats of "Modern Family" will air on the USA Network. What has changed is the demand for recycled programs has gone up. And that's been good news for the folks who sell those programs, says Derek Kompare, the author of "Rerun Nation: How Repeats Invented American Television."

DEREK KOMPARE: It's the multiplying of the platforms that's lucrative right now.

BLAIR: He says online streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon are hungry for content.

KOMPARE: What's happened is there's so many pieces of the pie, so many options for viewers out there that the way to succeed isn't by aggregating everybody into one piece of the pie, but it's trying to get your content into as many pieces of that pie as possible.

BLAIR: That's what CBS is doing. They recently reported that profits were up 80 percent in the first quarter of this year. And that's in large part because of all of the syndication and streaming deals. The CBS library includes shows like "Dexter" and "Medium." Even shows as old as "Frasier" are part of these rerun deals.


BLAIR: In a recent conference call with analysts, CBS president and CEO Leslie Moonves was almost breathless talking about how sales of all their hit shows will contribute to their bottom line for years to come.

LESLIE MOONVES: There's opportunities galore out there. So there are a lot of players out there circling the building. And we will be making some of those deals, you know, over the next number of months.

BLAIR: Many of these non-advertising revenue sources, said Moonves, did not even exist a few years ago.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.