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Syndicators ready to reap strike benefits

Apr 30, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Strikes, the economy and consolidation may all be playing a part in the syndicated television upfront this season, but no one really knows for sure how it’s going to be affected by those factors.
Several months ago, when an unstable economic picture first surfaced, analysts were quick to predict a sharp downward spiral of ad revenues. But as fall creeps closer and fears of the grim reaper subside, a number of syndicators and even advertisers are noting that, in the end, ad losses are likely to be small or even nonexistent for many shows in the industry. Insiders note that advertising budgets aren’t up, but interest in syndication shows is.
“After surveying the advertising landscape, I think it’s becoming clear that the situation may not be nearly as bad as everyone thought it was,” said Charles Larsen, president of October Moon Television. “Although the upfronts certainly won’t be huge or great, advertisers are deciding that they may not want to hold back for the scatter market because people are realizing that the worst is likely behind us.”
Despite the yearly ratings erosion figures, a number of syndicated series broke out last year, including Tribune Entertainment’s rookie action hour “Andromeda” and Universal Television’s sophomore relationship series “Blind Date,” while two other strips, Twentieth Television’s “Power of Attorney” and Columbia TriStar Television Distribution’s “Judge Hatchett,” finished atop the freshman pack. Next fall, some syndicators are watching the writers and actors strike talks, which could leave the reality-driven and strike-proof syndication lineup immune from the aftereffects.
“Our position with advertisers will definitely be enhanced if there is a strike because we will be fully produced or immune from the strike and can launch on schedule,” said Bo Argentino, head of Columbia TriStar’s advertising sales.
Indeed, both ad buyers and sellers confirm that the potential strikes have already shifted focus to syndicated programming for a number of advertisers, including several companies that had never before looked at the programming genre.
“When I talk to advertisers, the biggest issue of the moment is that everyone is anticipating an iffy economy, and advertisers need to feel comfortable that they are spending their media dollars wisely,” said Allison Bodenmann, president of the Syndicated Network Television Association.
Last year, Procter & Gamble led the syndication advertising crowd with more than $130 million dollars spent in the market, followed by General Motors at $115 million. Buyers suggest that the two companies will again approach those levels when the year is through in both upfront and scatter advertising, despite the economic slowdown.
“In recent years, packaged goods companies have bought syndication very efficiently, and now other sectors are saying, `Hey, maybe we should get in on the action,”’ Ms. Bodenmann said. “They realize that this is an investment and a smart thing to do in the environment that we’re in. The medium still has relatively high ratings, especially compared to cable, and there’s nowhere else where they can reach these dayparts.”
Quickly drawing attention from advertisers are a slew of relationship series attempting to draw some of the eyeballs earned by the likes of Universal’s “Blind Date.” Among them is Universal’s “The Fifth Wheel” being pitched as a companion show to the demo-grabbing strip. Universal scored big this year when “Blind Date” pulled its way just under “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” in the key adult demos. As a result, not only did Universal spawn another series in the genre, Paramount Domestic Television, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution and Columbia TriStar followed suit.
With advertisers, “Fifth Wheel” already has an advantage, simply because it comes from the producers of “Blind Date,” with which it will be paired in a number of markets. Paramount, on the other hand, will bring celebrity analysts to the mix with “Rendez-View,” Warner Bros. may be boosted by a potential prime-time edition of “Elimidate” on The WB, and Columbia TriStar will deliver “Shipmates.”
“What’s interesting about `Shipmates’ is that it’s a dating show on location,” said Columbia TriStar’s Ms. Argentino. “The series continues our innovative programming showcase, giving Columbia TriStar a broader range of programs ranging from daytime to early fringe to late-night.”
Although “Andromeda” and upcoming Tribune hour “Mutant X” as well as Columbia TriStar’s “VIP” and “Sheena” would normally be vulnerable to the strikes, studios prepared ahead of time to bank fresh episodes for the new season. A number of action hours are also taped outside North America with non-American stars.
Buyers are paying close attention to “Mutant X,” noting that the familiar Marvel brand name will complement Tribune’s launch strategy for the show.
Lions Gate Television and Mercury Entertainment will distribute “Tracker” starring “Highlander’s” Adrian Paul. In addition, New Line will offer “Hard Knox” to complement its own well-rated action hour “The Lost World.”
Strips, on the other hand, are considered reality programming and may be considered strike-proof. Buyers this year are high on King World Productions’ “The Ananda Lewis Show.” Advertisers are also looking at “Iyanla” from Buena Vista Television as a programming hour with potential. In addition, NBC will offer “The Other Half” as its first series as a syndicator, while Tribune presents “Talk or Walk.”
On the off-net side of the industry, even advertisers love “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which will debut in syndication this fall. After a lackluster year that saw series such as “Spin City” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” falter in their off-net debuts, advertisers are lining up to snag a spot on the five-day-a-week airings of “Raymond.”
Said one advertising executive who declined to be identified, “Right now, it’s the only sure-thing out there, and you know off-net series with the credentials of `Raymond’ will deliver 99 percent of the time.”