How to Get License Rights to TV Shows

by Michael Remmert; Updated September 26, 2017
Mature Man Sits Watching TV in a Modern Home Interior

Anybody wishing to use television images for commercial purposes needs to purchase licensing rights. There are a number of different ways to buy licensing rights—one common practice is called syndication for multiple use of those rights. Sometimes the owners of the rights only sell them for one-time use, like a specific broadcast, or for use in one specific market, such as a foreign country. Licensing rights are traded at huge international television trade shows, such as the Mipcom, in Cannes, France, or through agents in cities where a lot of TV shows are produced, particularly in Los Angeles.

TV Licensing Deals

Step 1
Man using laptop computer in cafe

Determine who owns the rights to a show you are interested in. The owner could be one of the following parties:

  1. The network on which the program originally aired;
  2. The production company that wrote the concept and produced the show;
  3. Another commercial user like a foreign network or a national competitor;
  4. A syndication agency, often called a syndicator.
Step 2
Mature woman using telephone at desk in office, smiling

Contact the current owners of the rights and let them know what you intend to do with those rights if they are willing to sell. Usually, the television industry differentiates between two different types of content: Either so-called "first run" options, meaning broadcasts that are produced to be syndicated to as many stations as possible, such as game shows or many situation comedies, running simultaneously on many different networks. Or "off-network" productions, often shows that have long ceased to run on the original network but may be of interest in different markets, such as foreign countries. However, purchases for one-time use, such as exclusively shot news footage, can be subject to licensing fees. It is almost always unlawful to use somebody else´s content for commercial purposes without having obtained licensing rights first.

Step 3
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Negotiate the price you are willing to pay. Prices vary greatly, and are often a time issue. Today´s exclusive news content may be very old news a day or two later, when the commercial value may have dropped dramatically. Off-network productions are often sold for much less than first runs. The price and all other conditions must be written in a contract between buyer and seller. In Los Angeles, there are many agents drawing up contracts and pairing interested parties. If the deal succeeds, those agents typically charge 15 percent of the price as a commission. In almost all cases, the seller is responsible for paying the agent.

About the Author

Michael Remmert started writing professionally in 1986, having worked for tabloids like "Bild" and "Berliner Zeitung," broadsheets like "Welt," and broadcasters like Associated Press Television News, European Broadcast Union, and Columbia Broadcasting System. He earned a Master of Arts in liberal studies and journalism from New York University in 1986.

Photo Credits

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