Outdoor Life Network announced today that it has acquired the exclusive syndication rights to the first ten seasons of CBS's long-running Survivor reality series. Best known as the broadcast home of the Tour de France bicycle race and The Gravity Games, Outdoor Life Network is owned by the Comcast cable corporation and available in more than 63 million American homes.

In addition to obtaining the rights to all 160 episodes of Survivor's first ten editions, the deal (struck with King World, the CBS-owned distributor of the Mark Burnett-produced series) also gives Outdoor Life Network syndication options for Survivor 11 and Survivor 12 -- the two editions that CBS will air as part of its 2005-2006 primetime schedule.

While the financial terms of the deal weren't publicly disclosed, according to the Hollywood Reporter, the deal calls for OLN to pay between $60,000 and $70,000 for each episode of the smash hit reality competition show, a fee that would make the deal worth around $10-11 million.

The deal is OLN's biggest programming deal ever -- and one that its executives feel has the potential to transform the network. "It's a terrific show for us," OLN President Gavin Harvey told the Associated Press during a conference call with reporters.

"OLN's mission is to captivate viewers with content that feeds their need for thrills, challenges and the drama of competition, adventure and achievement in the outdoors,” said Harvey. “Survivor covers all of those areas. What better show to bring to OLN, than one that is all about surviving and competing in the great outdoors?”

OLN will premiere the series on July 24 -- immediately following its coverage of this year's Tour de France race.

While the network plans to start Survivor's run by airing the episodes in chronological order beginning with the first episode of the first season, it also plans to eventually repackage the episodes into themes such as "Biggest Twists" and "Most Villainous Characters." "We're going to pull episodes and do repackaging by theme," OLN senior vice president Marc Fein told MediaWeek.

OLN will initially air Survivor Monday through Thursday at 7PM, with the episodes repeating at 10PM and again on the weekends.

While other reality shows such as Fear Factor have been previously sold into syndication, Survivor's syndication is expected to serve as a significant test as to whether reruns of serialized reality formats in which the ending is already known can still attract viewers.

Naturally, both OLN and Burnett believe Survivor can do so, citing the drama and suspense present within each episode. "There's so much drama built into each episode," said Fein. "People are going to come back to revisit how Richard Hatch engineered his amazing victory, for example."

OLN and Burnett also feel that the deal has the potential to expose Survivor to new viewers who have somehow failed to view the editions during their previous CBS broadcasts -- and also draw those viewers back to CBS's upcoming new seasons of the series.

"It seems very successful, but only 20 million out of 250 million people in this country have really seen it, so it really has along way to go," Burnett told reporters during a conference call announcing the deal. "A lot of people have never even seen it before." "[It's an] incredible windfall for us to finally reach syndication. [But] beyond the economic benefit, we feel it's going to help ... build more awareness," he added.
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"This show presents a huge opportunity for our network,” said Fein. “Since 2000 each season of Survivor has ranked among the top five shows of that season and averaged more than 20 million viewers. Research speaks to the show’s continuing strength and the compatibility between our audience and that of Survivor. The built-in fan base will bring new viewers to OLN, exposing them to all of the other great programming we have to offer."

Survivor is the reality series that spawned a whole new television genre,” added Harvey. “It is a prized acquisition and a perfect fit for OLN.”

Smaller serialized series such as Average Joe and The Mole have previously repeated on networks like GSN (the former Game Show Network), however the next six months should determine whether serialized reality formats are likely to succeed in cable syndication. In addition to OLN's Survivor launch, Fox's fledgling Fox Reality network launched last week, and GSN is also expected to shortly announce a syndication deal that will allow it to begin airing repeats of CBS's The Amazing Race later this summer.

While Daily Variety noted that Burnett has "friendly relations" with several OLN executives via the Eco-Challenge series that gave Burnett his television start, according to Burnett, the decision to go with OLN came "down to the best economic deal and commitment to promotion." Although Burnett declined to confirm whether he'd also been in talks with GSN, Fox Reality, or any other network, it is believed that several cable networks were interested in acquiring Survivor's syndication rights.