"Seinfeld" may be on its way out, but its value is on its way up.
TV industry insiders say that even before the top-rated comedy airs its final original "yada, yada, yada" on NBC this May, the syndication rights for the show are likely to skyrocket for stations wanting to broadcast "Seinfeld" reruns for years to come.
Columbia TriStar Television Distribution, which distributes the reruns, already has started discussions with stations in the top markets about a new syndication deal for "Seinfeld." And executives are speculating that the license fees for the comedy could double from what stations paid for the current syndication deal, expected to expire in the spring of 2001.
Sources said that in the first syndication release, "Seinfeld" made more than $3 million per episode in license fees, and that a new deal could take the sitcom past the $6-million-per-episode threshold.
"The fact is, 'Seinfeld' is the most popular show in syndication, and it will continue to grow after it's off the network," said one industry executive. "Stations build their whole lineups around it. And after it goes off NBC, the only place you'll be able to see it is in syndication."
For instance, one insider said reruns of "Seinfeld" at 11 p.m. weekdays on station WPIX in New York have prompted the ratings for the station's 10 p.m. local news lead-in to improve dramatically. "Some days, 'Seinfeld' is the highest-rated show on the station," said the source.
Executives for Columbia could not be reached for comment, and some insiders said the discussions are only in the preliminary stages. But those talks are expected to be more animated because of the heightened interest in the last weeks of "Seinfeld," and competition among local stations to broadcast the episodes is likely to intensify.
A spokeswoman for KTLA-TV Channel 5, which airs the "Seinfeld" repeats locally, said the station has had "conversations" with Columbia about renewing its pact, but declined to elaborate.
One tactic that Columbia is expected to push for in its dealings with stations is the limitation of the number of times a station can run "Seinfeld" during the day. Stations can only broadcast the comedy once a day now, which helps to maintain its value. Other syndicated reruns often air twice a day, such as "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."