The Columbus Dispatch

CBS, NBC could chase ‘Jeopardy!’ for their TV stations

- Stephen Battaglio and Meg James

Last summer, the beloved game show “Jeopardy!” was getting pummeled with bad publicity over a botched search for a new host.

But Sony Pictures Television’s stumbles trying to find a successor to the late Alex Trebek did not seem to matter much to “Jeopardy!” fans. In the current 202122 television season, the program is averaging 9.1 million viewers, up 6% compared to last year, according to Nielsen data.

So far this season, the audience for “Jeopardy!” has surpassed that for every prime-time broadcast entertainm­ent show, including NBC’S “The Voice.” It’s been a bigger draw than the Grammy Awards; and its crowd nearly equals the turnout for this year’s Oscars telecast. Only NFL football telecasts and other major live sporting events consistent­ly perform better.

The program’s resilience at a time when traditiona­l TV audiences are shrinking has not gone unnoticed. While Disney/abc has aired “Jeopardy!” on its owned TV stations since 1984, competitor­s Viacomcbs and Nbcunivers­al have discussed making a play to get the legendary game show and “Wheel of Fortune” for their major-market TV stations, according to several network and studio executives who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The intense interest is setting up a dynamic next year for an old-fashioned network bidding war among buyers looking for an edge for their stations as they compete for a diminishin­g pool of viewers.

“Jeopardy!” and “Wheel” are syndicated on TV stations across the country. ABC has long had the rights to the show in the country’s five largest TV markets, including on its Los Angeles outlet KABC, WABC in New York and KGO in San Francisco.

“Everybody wants it,” said one highlevel entertainm­ent executive.

Disney/abc would like to hold on to the programs for its stations even while the Burbank entertainm­ent giant’s priority is growing its streaming platforms, Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+, people familiar with the matter said.

Abc-owned TV stations have the rights to “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune” in their markets through the 202223 season – paying around $1 million per week. Negotiatio­ns and a decision on where the two shows go are months away, but potential contenders have informally expressed interest and held internal discussion­s on what it will take to claim the prize. The shows are produced by Sony Pictures Television and distribute­d to TV stations by CBS Media Ventures. Representa­tives for both companies declined comment for this story.

“Jeopardy!” has always been an attractive programmin­g property, as it’s the highest-rated syndicated game show on TV. But its stature in recent years has been enhanced by the state of the rest of the television landscape, where traditiona­l viewing outside of live sports has eroded rapidly.

The rise of streaming video has siphoned viewers away from traditiona­l TV, diminishin­g the number of options outside of live sports that can change the fortunes of a network. The ability of “Jeopardy!” to feed a massive audience into a network’s prime-time lineup enhances its value.

“Because of its timelessne­ss, it’s a safe bet,” said Bill Hague, executive vice president of the media consulting firm Magid.

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