Syndicators ready to take back what’s theirs

May 6, 2002  •  Post A Comment

It will take some time for the syndication industry’s major effort toward promoting the value of syndicated shows to pay dividends, say industry experts. However, this upfront season, distributors do expect to regain some precious ground lost last year.
Early forecasts project an increase of 5 percent in selling volume with approximately a 1 percent increase in prices. Although the numbers don’t make up for the damage done a year ago, the good news is that things are not expected to get worse. Even pessimistic views of the syndication upfronts see no worse than a break-even situation compared with 2001 sales. Even new series such as “Dr. Phil,” “Life Moments” and “Good Day Live” are drawing interest, “where there was none for last year’s freshmen,” one source said.
With syndication ad sales the worst they have been in half a century, off approximately $1.7 billion last year, or 25 percent from the year before, distributors have decided to take charge of the industry’s image. A direct result was the revival of the Syndicated Network Television Association by a slew (but not all) of the major distributors, which tapped Gene DeWitt to oversee the agency. Other companies, impatient for results, took matters into their own hands and are organizing their own campaigns to lure advertisers to the industry.
At the beginning of the year, SNTA was rumored to be a future replacement for the National Association of Television Program Executives, although that’s not likely to happen. SNTA is busy doing research as it prepares for the daunting task of luring advertisers away from cable and the networks.
“Its amazing to me that syndication has fallen below the screen,” Mr. DeWitt said. “The mirror image of that, however, is that there is a huge opportunity out there for us because the value is there. I’ve recently discussed syndication with a lot of young media planners and discovered that many clients really don’t know what syndication is. We’re going to change that.”
Mr. DeWitt plans to go both long and wide in an appeal to potential clients, bringing up the versatility of syndication as well as its penetration, something the industry has failed to capitalize on in recent years.
“There are a lot of myths about syndication, but the truth is that syndication can draw more people than most network shows,” he said. “Clients could cherry-pick their audiences and time slots in a way that wouldn’t be possible in the networks. As for cable, they don’t reach nearly as many people as syndication does.”
A change of image is exactly what syndication needs, agreed Steve Mosko, president of Columbia TriStar Domestic Television. In fact, the need is so dire that Mr. Mosko has opted to launch his own campaign to promote the value of syndication in lieu of working with SNTA.
“Everything we sell has a 90 percent clearance, while there isn’t one cable network with coverage in 82 percent of the country,” Mr. Mosko said. “You can buy for late fringe or daytime or early fringe, just like any network. That’s why I felt it was time to tell our story and sell the value of our business.”
Columbia TriStar has unleashed a series of print ads with the theme “Syndication Works!” The ads tout the popularity of syndication with examples such as “Seinfeld’s” consistent delivery of adults 18 to 49 in higher numbers than 90 percent of current network shows.
“We’re on the way back to recovery and we believe that by selling why people should be in business with syndication … we will realize the benefits in the long haul,” Mr. Mosko said. “It took us 18 months to put this presentation together-and with a 52-week commitment to constantly putting this in advertisers’ faces, we will see results.”