Ad boom embraces syndie too

Oct 7, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Syndicators are reporting that they have sold out virtually all of their fourth-quarter advertising slots, even within new series.
For the first time since first and second quarter 2000, syndicators have completed back-to-back sellouts of advertising inventory, which looks to improve on the estimated $2 billion for the year. Many of the distributors were even able to raise prices by an estimated 5 percent to 10 percent from original estimates, thanks to the advertising turnaround.
“What’s happening is that marketers are nearing the end of the year and realizing that they have to get their product off the shelves,” said Gene DeWitt, president of the Syndicated Network Television Association. “A lot of people are calling us to see if they can get avails, but for the most part they just aren’t there until first quarter 2003. It’s been incredible. Last year, syndicators were waiting for the upfront; this year they are sitting pretty.”
Several reasons triggered the stronger-than-expected turnaround, according to sources. The broadcast networks sold out their fourth-quarter inventory at elevated prices, making syndication a more viable option. Second, the newly revamped SNTA has been more proactive than in past years to get its message out to media buyers.
“I think people realize that we are a network surrogate,” Mr. DeWitt said. “Now that cable has plateaued and isn’t delivering what they promised, we can take advantage of our position.”
Also contributing to the sellouts are unusually strong syndication debuts for both rookies and veterans. Two new first-run series, King World’s “Dr. Phil” and Buena Vista’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” have easily broken the 2.0 rating, which has been considered the “plateau of success” in recent years, while others such as Sony Pictures’ “Pyramid” are approaching that level. “Dr Phil” entered the national ratings chart with a 4.4 rating, beating even “The Oprah Winfrey Show’s” debut in 1996. “Millionaire” most recently earned a 2.4, to mark the highest-rated rookie game show since “Hollywood Squares.”
Off-network debuts of Warner Bros.’ “Will & Grace” and Carsey-Werner-Mandabach’s “That ’70s Show” were strong, and prices of avails were raised in recent weeks.
“The initial success of some of these rookie shows has helped us gain more attention even if they aren’t ours,” one studio executive said. “With returning shows popping great numbers, we’ve been able to return to a more normal marketplace. I can only hope it lasts.”
Finally, according to sources both at media-buying agencies and studios, advertising budgets may not have been properly planned.
“People who thought that they could wait out the year and pick off syndicators like last year suddenly found themselves without an outlet,” one agency source said. “That turned out to be the wrong call, and they are paying for it now with higher rates than they would have found even a month ago.”