A He-Man leads the U.S.A. $yndication War$ – Page 2

        Issue #15 Spring 1986

Scenes from the Hanna-Barbera series The Jetsons.

Although the policy guidelines were rescinded recently, the FCC insisting it was no longer necessary to force stations to provide children’s programming due to the proliferation of local and cable-TV stations and the lucrative advertising market, it began an escalating demand for cartoon shows. The animated film series were less expensive over a year s contract than producing local daily children’s programming with union staffs, and since they could attract national sponsors were far more profitable.

In the late ‘70s, the guidelines particularly aided established TV animation producers, who found a ready market for their older and recently cancelled Saturday AM network shows. Among others, placed in syndication were such packages as Hanna-Barbera’s The Flintstones, DePatie-Freleng’s Pink Panther, Filmation’s The Archies, CBS-Terrytoons’ Mighty Mouse and more recently a collection of 137 half-hours from Ruby-Spears sold as The Plasticman Comedy Show. Walter Lantz released his later cartoons on Woody Woodpecker and Friends and MGM’s vintage Tom and Jeny package was sold in 1977 for up to $45,000 per half-hour in the larger cities, for a five year run. With 77 shows of four cartoons each, it brought a handsome sum.

A staple of local TV shows, many of the older cartoons were plagued by diminishing audiences by the ‘80s. Most of them had been recirculated steadily since the early ‘70s. Yet, prices continued to spiral upwards for series with famous names or well-known merchandise tie-ins, which could attract a respectable rating-share of viewing youngsters and appeal to such sponsors as the breakfast cereal and toy companies.

Hanna-Barbera series The Jetsons.

In particular, the toy companies became a major factor when their research indicated that network Saturday AM programs were not the best way to build sales for new toy lines. Although they continued as participating sponsors in network shows, and some older syndicated packages, sometimes in barter arrangements, they began financing syndicated animated series built around storylines featuring their new dolls and toys.

The practice is not entirely new. Abandoning the pre-Christmas season emphasis, Mattel revolutionized toy advertising in the late ‘80s, when they began year-round use of network and syndicated TV. In the ‘60s, this philosophy made the Barbie doll the most successful financial bonanza since the Shirley Temple doll of the ‘30s. Hot Wheels (ABC/1969- 1971), although not sponsored by Mattel, sold millions of their Hot Wheels collection of toy cars.

The California toymaker also pioneered barter syndication. Local TV stations were offered the cartoon series The Funny Company (1963-1966) for the same price the station would charge for several of Mattel’s commercials on the progranune. The Station could then sell the remaining commercial time to other advertisers and keep the revenue. Eight of the twelve syndicated shows last fall are barter series, as is their He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.

To introduce their new lines, several companies have syndicated animated TV specials and five-part mini-series in the ‘80s. In a few cases, they have financed animated theatrical features, such as The Care Bears Movie, with some success. But epitomized by He-Man, the most effective marketing effort has been through syndicated series, scheduled by TV stations Monday through Friday, offering better national exposure on a regular basis.

Syndication has become more attractive to studios also. With costs for 13 episodes of Saturday AM programming running between $200,000 to $250,000 per half-hour, in fact 23 minutes, the studios often lose money on orders for one season of shows, the current network practice except for a few long-term guaranteed programmes such as Hanna-Barbera/ABC’s Scooby-Doo. A syndicated series with 65 episodes, 5 shows per week for 13 weeks, however, could be made for $150,000 to $200,000 per half-hour, and with the volume and financial commitment involved it is easier to return a profit.

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