June 21, 2021

What ‘Ellen’ ending says about the changing TV business

The announcement that Ellen DeGeneres will wrap up her long-running daytime talk show in 2022…

The announcement that Ellen DeGeneres will wrap up her long-running daytime talk show in 2022 is another step toward the end of television as viewers once knew it.

Telepictures, the WarnerMedia unit that distributes “Ellen” to TV stations across the country, has no plans as of now to offer a successor to the program, which has been a staple of daytime lineups since 2003.

The last time Telepictures prepared for a possible DeGeneres departure several years ago, the company was out gauging interest in a replacement program with Drew Barrymore as host. (DeGeneres ended up signing a new deal and Barrymore now has a syndicated show with ViacomCBS).

Several TV executives familiar with the matter said Telepictures has no plans to hold onto its “Ellen” time periods with a new show this time around, even though it was well-known inside the company that DeGeneres intended to leave at the end of her three-year contract.

A representative for WarnerMedia had no comment on the matter.

The demise of “Ellen” is the latest sign of how TV syndication — the distribution of first-run and off-network broadcast programs to individual TV stations — has suffered from audience losses due to streaming and other alternatives. The segment was once the most lucrative in the TV business.

Telepictures was founded in 1979, selling children’s programming and repeats of old network shows to TV stations. Warner Bros. took control after it acquired the company’s then-parent Lorimar in the mid-1980s.

Industry insiders were not surprised by Wednesday’s announcement. Many employees who provided sales and marketing support to TV stations that carried “Ellen” were cut in the last round of staff reductions implemented under WarnerMedia parent AT&T, where the company’s streaming service HBO Max is a priority.

“A lot of the people we used to deal with at Telepictures all the time were let go,” said one TV station executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he still does business with the company. “They are now a streaming company and that’s what they’re focused on and that’s why [they’re] not out shopping something.”

In addition to “Ellen,” Telepictures also distributes the daytime talk show “The Real,” courtroom shows “Judge Mathis” and “The People’s Court” and entertainment news shows “Extra” and “TMZ.” It also sells repeats of Warner Bros. sitcoms and dramas to TV stations and cable networks.

After Oprah Winfrey ended her syndicated daytime program in 2011, “Ellen” became the first stop in daytime TV for big-name stars wanting to promote a new film or TV show. It was valuable in plugging TV and movie properties from Warner Bros.

But “Ellen” has not been a huge money maker for Telepictures in recent years, as ratings have declined while talent fees have risen.

Nielsen data shows “Ellen” averaging 1.4 million viewers in the current 2020-21 season, down 44% from the previous year.

The highly publicized controversy over the alleged mistreatment of employees behind the scenes at the program and the limitations imposed by the pandemic likely hastened the ratings decline.

Once “Ellen” is gone, NBCUniversal’s “The Kelly Clarkson Show” will be the only celebrity-driven talk show in daytime. Clarkson’s program has been renewed through 2023.

Without a compelling alternative, many TV stations that carry “Ellen” are likely to replace it with an hour of local news, which for many outlets will be far cheaper than the license fee to carry the program.

NBCU pays Telepictures close to $600,000 per week to carry “Ellen” on 10 of the TV stations owned by the company.