Broadcast syndication, in the television broadcasting industry, is the method of selling TV programs to individual stations without going through a network. Broadcast syndication is most common in the United States and, to a lesser extent, in Canada, which have independently owned stations that are either network affiliates or operate as independent stations. It is not as common in Europe and the rest of the world, most of which have centralized networks that do not have independently owned affiliates. Shows airing in syndication may air on an NBC affiliate in one market, or a FOX affiliate in another market, or on an independent station in another market, and may be broadcast either daily on weekdays (and in some cases, on weekends as well), which is the case for game shows, newsmagazines, courtroom and talk shows and reruns of sitcoms and dramas, or weekly (most often on weekends only) for some newsmagazines, political discussion shows, theatrical film packages, professional wrestling shows, hour-long dramas whose syndicators choose to air them only on weekends and off-network sitcoms and dramas that did not produce enough episodes in their original network runs to warrant daily airings. Broadcast syndication exists in two forms:
- First-run syndication, where programs run on individual stations in their first runs instead of on a network. Current notable first-run syndicated programs include game shows like Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy! and Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?, entertainment news programs like Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood and Extra, courtroom shows like Judge Judy, Hot Bench and The People's Court and talk shows like The Doctors, Live with Kelly and Ryan and Dr. Phil. First-run sitcoms, dramas, animated cartoons and professional wrestling shows were also very popular in syndication in the past but are not as common today due to the proliferation of reality, talk and courtroom shows that currently air and, in the case of cartoons, the rise of cable TV channels specializing in cartoons (such as Cartoon Network) and bureaucratic regulation placing emphasis on the mandatory broadcasting of educational children's shows, a minimum of three hours per week of which must be aired on full-service broadcast stations as demanded by the Federal Communications Commission.
- Off-network syndication, where programs that originally aired on a network are offered for sale to individual stations by a program syndicator (such as CBS Television Distribution, 20th Television and Warner Bros. Television) that owns the distribution rights to those shows when a particular program has accumulated enough older episodes (usually about four seasons' worth or between 80 and 100 episodes on average) to begin rerunning in syndication. Off-network reruns can be offered by syndicators for cash (where each station buys the rights to place their own advertisements during commercial breaks), barter (where the syndicator offers the program in exchange for airtime to place its own ads) or a combination of the two. Some current or recently ended network shows whose early episodes now air in off-network reruns include The Big Bang Theory, The Simpsons, Family Guy and Law and Order: SVU. Many popular classic shows such as I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Brady Bunch, Get Smart, Leave It to Beaver, Star Trek: The Original Series and Cheers also continue to air in off-network reruns, often on classic TV networks like MeTV but also on individual stations.
- Syndication at the Museum of Broadcast Communications