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Editorial: Syndication takes a step in right direction

Feb 24, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The syndication industry launches a full PR blitz this week, taking its pitch directly to advertisers for the first time as the Syndicated Network Television Association, headed by ad agency veteran Gene DeWitt.
The group’s National Syndication Market, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday in New York, is a decisive and positive step for an industry in need of just such action. Mr. DeWitt’s objective is to put syndication on the radar of the major ad buyers and media planners, and taking the case straight to the advertising community on its home turf is a smart move.
But pitches alone won’t get the job done. As important as it is to make sure advertisers are aware of the opportunities available in syndicated programming, the key to success for syndication is the same as it always has been: developing hit shows. And the secret to developing hits is producing quality programming.
That strategy may be obvious, but the industry has drifted away from it in recent seasons, opting instead for the less enlightened formula of copying existing successes. The resulting overexposure of court shows and dating shows gives syndication a black eye, and carbon-copy programming quickly becomes tough to sell to advertisers. The copycat approach is a trap, a shortsighted strategy that in the long run is likely to fail.
On the other hand, originality still pays dividends. The brightest spot of the current syndication season, “Dr. Phil,” is an example of a show that is unlike anything else on TV. And both viewers and advertisers have taken notice.
Syndicators are on the right track by showing sensitivity to the needs of ad buyers and media planners, who face enormous pressure in the current business environment. With the economy in a slump and the media playing field being continuously redefined through consolidation and technology, the stakes are high in the ad game. The expansion of the number of potential advertising outlets through cable, satellite and other developments has given ad agencies enough choices to make their heads spin.
Partly because of effective marketing efforts in recent years by cable and satellite, syndication has been lost in the mix. This week’s market is a good step toward raising the profile of syndication to the level it deserves. We hope Mr. DeWitt and his organization enjoy a successful event. And we hope the industry will continue to work closely with advertisers.
But syndicators should keep in mind that they’re not going to fool anyone. The advertising community is smart, and the industry had better have the goods. Ad buyers are looking for value and quality-two things that the syndication business has shown in the past it can provide, and two things it must show again it is prepared to offer.