That could start to happen soon based on some of the trends that RBC Capital Markets’ David Bank identifies in a new report exploring the traditional and digital syndication markets — the latest in his must-read “Deep Dive Series.” He notes that Netflix likely will spend around $3.3B next year on content, while Amazon ponies up $1.7B, and Hulu follows with $1.5B. And they’re hungry for original productions; they’ll probably account for 10% of Netflix’s outlay.
Yet except for Lionsgate, “the dominant players on the network TV first window side (CBS, Warner Brothers, Fox, etc.) are playing a virtually immaterial role in the production of content for the emerging original content SVOD [subscription video-on-demand] ecosystem, even as its growth accelerates,” the analyst says. Smaller firms including Legendary TV and Electus, he finds, “are taking the lead on …originals, increasingly through co-production roles with the SVOD platforms themselves.”
No wonder. The Hollywood powers are doing just fine as they focus on the $23B a year off-network domestic syndication market, producing sitcoms and hour-long procedurals that they can sell to TV stations and cable networks, and arc-based dramas that can be re-run on SVOD. Their business could grow as channels including WGN America and FXX buy additional off-network fare.
And Bank acknowledges that there isn’t a clear financial model yet for shows that debut on digital platforms, such as Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black or Amazon’s Alpha House. We haven’t seen one of these shows jump to another platform “that would demonstrate that SVOD originals have true syndication value outside of window one.” What’s more, Netflix, Amazon, and others “are seeking long-term exclusivity in both time and geography, which would essentially prevent real exploitation of content in syndication even if demand developed.”
He already sees interesting experiments – particularly as big studios cut deals for individual shows, as opposed to libraries. CBS paved the way last year with Under The Dome, which also appeared on Amazon. It seems that these days studios “can make more from one show than they would have from a library sale only a few years ago,” Bank says. For example CBS probably made more from its sale of CSI: Miami to Netflix in 2012 than it did from its first library deal with the streaming service.
But the big guys may have to explore new opportunities. “Fewer linear syndication-friendly format shows are ‘breaking,’ and they are breaking later,” the analyst observes. And investors may fail to see the value from the new array of complicated, one-off, and often opaque deals. Unlike a few years ago, “today we have limited visibility into 2015 and none into 2016,” Bank says. Yet he takes a stab at it: he predicts that next year SVOD syndication deals will provide CBS Studios with $179M, Warner Bros. with $106M, Lionsgate with $61M, Sony with $43M, Fox and ABC Studios with $40M apiece, and UTV with $22M.