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Good Vibes From SNTA Light up $2.3 Bil Upfront

May 5, 2003  •  Post A Comment

After last February’s meeting between advertisers and members of the Syndicated Network Television Association-a gathering syndicators deemed triumphant in raising the profile of syndicated shows-distribution executives are waiting to see if dividends will roll in for the upfronts.
Early projections indicate that last year’s momentum will continue, with an estimated take this year of $2.3 billion. That’s a 15 percent hike over last year’s $2 billion figure, with most growth likely headed toward the “premiere” off-net and access series. Shows ranging from longtime staples such as Friends and Seinfeld to relative newcomers such as Everybody Loves Raymond and Will & Grace are expected to lead a charge that could see growth around 25 percent to 30 percent once the upfronts break.
That seems to mix well with one of the prominent messages to come out of SNTA members as well as nonmembers who boast that upper-tier off-net series in access can pull more viewers than many prime-time network series.
“With a show like Seinfeld regularly approaching a 6 rating in the 18 to 49 category and beating out CBS’s Monday night lineup, which won the night with a rating of just over 5, that’s a powerful draw,” said Bo Argentino, executive VP of advertiser sales at Sony Pictures Television. “It’s clear that these shows provide consistent programming and can outdeliver a network schedule at a comparable efficiency.” Sony will introduce CBS hit King of Queens and the off-cable series Ripley’s Believe It or Not this fall.
Off-network comedies continue to raise the bar in syndication, with 17 of the 25 top-priced shows coming from off-net series last year. That trend is expected to continue this year.
“When it comes to show identification, off-network series is the one point where audiences, syndicators and advertisers undisputedly all see value,” said one media buyer. “I see no reason why this wouldn’t continue, especially with fewer A-list series in the pipeline.”
Analysts project among other dayparts, a 15 percent bump in late-fringe series, including relationship strips such as Blind Date and Elimidate. Behind that is the daytime series category, which is projected to find single-digit growth.
The daytime market has continually seen an older skew both in ratings and advertiser interest. Now two syndicators are vying to change that perception, with Warner Bros.’ bringing Ellen DeGeneres and Sharon Osbourne to the talk show realm, while NBC Enterprises tries to capitalize on the reality craze with Starting Over. Both distributors are projecting higher CPMs as a result of their new, younger-drawing series. One series garnering mass interest after surpassing expectations this season is King World’s Dr. Phil, which is expected to lead the way in year-to-year upfront growth.
“Going into the upfront as a company, it’s definitely safe to say we had a coordinated strategy of having a focused point of view of what we’re bringing to the marketplace and its appeal to younger, more upscale audiences,” said Jim Paratore, president of Telepictures Productions. “We’re going to spend over $60 million launching these two shows, because Sharon and Ellen are proven audience draws and advertisers haven taken interest in that.”
“Advertisers have been asking for quality shows that are devoid of the lowest common denominator, that are fresh and exciting and appeal to young female viewers,” added Michael Teicher, executive VP, media sales, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. “We believe we can deliver on that with these shows.”
NBC will launch Starting Over, from the creators of Real World and Road Rules this fall in what analysts have called a “reality soap opera.” Given the long-standing popularity of those series on MTV as well as the continued demo of prime-time reality, Chris Kager, president of MGM NBC Enterprises Media Sales, noted that advertiser interest has run rampant with promotional and product placement opportunities in the mix.
“Interest has been outstanding in Starting Over, as we look to deliver the women 18 to 49 demo to advertisers,” Mr. Kager said. “In daytime that’s a refreshing demo to deliver. The reality genre has already brought back the younger viewers to the broadcast networks, and we think that will translate very well into Starting Over.”
Last year, ad sales executives were surprised by the overall strength of the upfront and how healthy it was following an overall economic downturn. This year, thanks to campaigns to raise syndication’s profile, they are hoping for more of the same. Already executives have noted that the technology industry is returning to the fold, with pharmaceuticals another area seeing ad growth. Although SNTA president Gene DeWitt forecast that syndication upfronts could break even before the networks, that now seems not to be the case.
Still, fiscal optimism is a difficult word in the industry, and executives are counting their blessings that buying is on the upswing.
“The overall day and a half at SNTA was extremely beneficial to barter syndication because for the first time in a long time syndication people spoke as one voice,” Mr. Kager said of the February meetings. “As to whether it was effective, the proof is in the pudding, and the response from the agencies remain very positive. I think it was money well spent.”