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Modern Family is having a down year this year (mostly), but it’s really helping out USA Network on the syndication side

Modern Family has won 62 awards and been nominated 155 times total since its inception, it’s helped make Sofia Vergara a multi-millionaire several times over, and it’s at the point where it’s getting mentioned in headline fields with Breaking Bad and American Hustle. As far as TV comedies go, there are better shows — many would say New Girl, or even Big Bang Theory, or Louie, or How I Met Your Mother, or, goddamn, It’s Always Sunny — but there aren’t many with the level of cache as Modern Family right now. This season has been a little bit uneven — the last episode, with Jane Krakowski as a mom feuding with Gloria and Phil/Jay re-imaging high school roles, was pretty good — and the ratings reflect that: they’re actually down 21 percent as compared to this point last year. But on the syndication side, where it just debuted on USA Network, it’s done something kind of remarkable: it’s essentially lowered the median age of the network’s viewers by 12 years (53 to 41).

“When we brought Modern Family on, the whole idea was, how do we increase the reach of USA and bring new people into the fold?” USA Network President Chris McCumber told Quartz. “It’s already doing that and it’s only been on the air for a few months.”

USA is predominantly successful because of things very different from Modern Family — namely, marathons of Law and Order: SVU and NCIS, original shows like Suits, and Monday Night Raw. As a result, it’s been the No. 1 network in basic cable for the last eight years. So while it didn’t necessarily need the show, it was willing to spend big for it. USA pays about $1.4 million per episode for the first four seasons (again, per episode) for the syndication rights. Part of the reason, strategy-wise, is that they’re launching some of their own comedies in the next few months, including Sirens, which is produced by Denis Leary.

USA basically marketed Modern Family as if it were an original program; here’s one of the spots.

Here’s a key stat from that Ad Age article:

The network estimates there’s only 8% duplication of its audience and “Modern Family’s” on ABC, and Ms. Shapiro said there’s a significant opportunity to attract a chunk of the about 10 million people who watch the sitcom on broadcast. There’s reason to be encouraged. “The Big Bang Theory” on TBS regularly pulls 3 million viewers in prime time, and during one week in April, seven reruns of “Big Bang” were among the top 40 cable TV shows.

Here’s how it’s shaking out so far:

1. 35 percent of the Modern Family viewers are first-time USA Network viewers, so … score one for USA Network.

2. Modern Family is now the No. 2 show in syndication (already) behind … you guessed it … The Big Bang Theory, which is still dominating it. As you might have guessed from the whole “ratings are down 21 percent” thing at the top of this post, there’s been no “syndication bump” for ABC (when a show goes to syndication, sometimes viewers rush back to the original home to see the newest episodes). One major argument people make on the Modern Family vs. Big Bang front is that CBS has the NFL, and 60 Minutes — and if you’ve ever watched either the NFL or 60 Minutes live, you’ve probably seen about 12 Big Bang promos. ABC doesn’t have anything on par with the NFL or 60 Minutes as a promotional tool. In fact, often the highest-rated show on ABC is … Modern Family. The platforms are different.

3. I’m not sure how much longer the Modern Family run will be — probably 3-4 years, maybe a little more — but ABC needs to get after it in terms of development. Right now its two main building blocks are this show and Scandal, and it has the Oscars and the NBA Finals (with ESPN). The Bachelor does alright, and Good Morning America has made huge strides early, but it needs more in terms of keeping up with a CBS/NBC/even FOX (NBC has had a terrible time with show development in its own right, but they have Sunday Night Football, and advertisers will still line up and pant like dogs for a shot to get their wares on there).

Ted Bauer

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