'Elementary's' Syndication Sale Nets CBS a Whopping $3 Million an Episode

Issue 6 REP Deals Elementary Episodic - H 2014
David M. Russell/CBS

Issue 6 REP Deals Elementary Episodic - H 2014

The complex pact -- which includes cable (WGN America), subscription video-on-demand (Hulu Plus) and a not-yet-named broadcast component -- is one of (if not the) biggest drama sales on record.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 14th issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

While much of the TV syndication business was in Miami Beach at NATPE, CBS closed two significant off-network deals -- in Los Angeles.

Over several weeks in January, CBS hammered out a complex pact for its second-season drama Elementary that includes cable (WGN America), subscription-video-on-demand (Hulu Plus) and a not-yet-named broadcast component for about $3 million an episode, making it one of (if not the) biggest drama sales on record. Meanwhile, its Blue Bloods inked a broadcast syndication deal with ION and at press time also was expected to announce cable (WGNA) and SVOD agreements.

STORY: Hulu Plus Adds CBS' 'Elementary'

The deals mark the first time CBS simultaneously has taken two dramas to market, seeking opportunities across multiple platforms. Doing so sparked confusion and a bidding war, with the network having the leverage to carve out windows on different platforms. CBS, which declined comment on financial terms, had set an internal precedent for multiplatform pacts with its innovative 2013 deal for The Good Wife, which sold to Hallmark, Amazon Prime and Hulu. "This is an evolving marketplace," says a CBS exec, who suggests there would not be a one-size-fits-all approach to its off-net dealings. "We're going to be smart and methodical."

CBS is benefiting from new buyers like WGNA, which is making an aggressive push in its bid for greater subscriber fees. The cable network is laying a foundation for original series like the upcoming drama Salem with proven hits like Person of Interest, a strategy once employed by now-top-rated nets such as USA and A&E, which were built on such off-network offerings as NCIS and Criminal Minds.

Hulu, too, is looking to compete with Netflix and Amazon by bulking up its inventory. Boosting the dealmaking position of CBS senior vp corporate licensing and distribution Scott Koondel is the fact that The Good Wife has performed well on Hulu, which doesn't count CBS as a corporate parent in the way it does the network's rivals.

CBS' two new deals come as both series continue to deliver ratings. Bloods recently logged its most-watched episode (12.8 million) since its 2010 debut, while Elementary -- a Sherlock Holmes drama with an edgy, cable-type protagonist -- regularly lures 12 million viewers.