Extra and TMZ may be at the forefront of a change in the TV syndication business.
Fox Television Stations and Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, which together syndicate the two daily programs, have agreed to a format change (along with multiseason renewals): Instead of an ad break following the end credits, each show will now flow seamlessly into the next.
TMZ spinoff TMZ Live and talk show The Real, which both also earned multiyear pickups, will incorporate the tweak, already a long-standing practice for network primetime shows and national news programs. The changes will take effect in December.
"You don't want to signal in a linear world that the show's over, go look for something else," Fox TV Stations CEO Jack Abernethy tells The Hollywood Reporter. The four shows will still have the same runtime and amount of ad space, he says, but those ads will be distributed earlier in the show, including as part of a new break.
Fox already has implemented the seamless transition at the end of the three shows that its own syndication unit, Fox First Run, distributes: Divorce Court, Dish Nation and 25 Words or Less. Abernethy hopes the deal with Warner Bros. will spur the rest of the industry to follow suit.
"We started with Warner Bros., which was very receptive," he says. "They understood the value because in many cases they have one of their shows running into [another] of their shows. They saw the value of eliminating that break and helping Extra. But they also saw if we can get the entire industry [to do it], then everybody benefits. That's the idea."
As ratings for syndicated shows fall throughout the market, Abernethy says he didn't commission any research on whether having seamless flows from one show to the next helps with audience retention, but he did a "mind exercise" that convinced him that eliminating the end-of-show ad break, as well as the producers' and distributors' title slates at the end, was the way to go.
The syndication market has suffered the same ratings declines in recent years as the rest of linear TV. None of the four Warner Bros. shows averages more than 1.5 million daily viewers, although they have ticked up this fall in the key demographic of women ages 25-54. The scattering of the audience makes retention that much more important.
"When are you more likely to leave a show: in the middle or at the end?" Abernathy says. "What we're trying to do is what they do in national news, which is before you realize the show's over, I'm telling you what's coming on next."
This story appeared in the Nov. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.