In a bullish upfront, syndicators were able to take a hard-line approach for the first time in years, with overall tallies estimated to be around $2.3 billion.
Estimates place both volume and price increases at an average of 12 percent for the industry, with the upper tier shows in particular leaving some distributors grinning.
Participation in February’s SNTA presentation may have been standing room only, but insiders at both media buying agencies and syndicators said the clear winners from the first annual meeting were the premier off-network series and other top shows, which drew ravenous interest. Series such as Friends, Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond took in upfront cost-per-thousand gains of more than 15 percent. Other top-tier series such as The Oprah Winfrey Show and Dr. Phil caused sticker shock among a number of advertisers but still drew their requested prices. Overall top shows pulled in an extra 13 percent to 18 percent hike for their class as the rich got richer.
“Certain dayparts were simply on fire,” said Clark Morehouse, senior VP of advertiser sales at Tribune Entertainment, which represents not only Tribune product but also series from New Line, Hearst, Telco and October Moon. “It was certainly the right market to be bullish in. We had a lot of smart selling for Family Feud and that led to big CPM increases.”
“There was an abundance of money in the market and if we didn’t raise prices we would have sold out far too fast,” said another executive at a key studio. “Clearly we had the advantage because there was more money registered than anticipated.”
Studios such as Warner Bros., which has Friends, Will & Grace and the incoming West Wing, seemed to fare best with their A-level off-net lineup, although sources said first-run programming held its own.
Pharmaceuticals in particular, along with theatricals and retail hardware, made some “significant” purchases in the category, according to several syndication executives. And buyers noted some gains were made in moving dollars out of the networks and into cable and syndication. One category that was down was automotive, where fewer purchases were made across the board in cable, network and syndication.
Midlevel players averaged CPM increases of 8 percent to 12 percent while lower-tier programs snagged hikes anywhere between 5 percent and 7 percent.
Drawing particular interest among this fall’s freshman crop of shows are Warner talk shows Ellen DeGeneres and Sharon Osbourne and NBC reality skein Starting Over. Among off-net series set to debut this fall, King of Queens, Angel and The West Wing each signed some key deals.
“Daytime has been pretty strong and both John Walsh and Starting Over were really received well,” said Chris Kager, president of MGM-NBC Media Sales Group, who brought in advertisers such as Pfizer. “Overall the market has been extremely healthy and orderly in light of the heavy volume.”
While some cable players are boasting that the gap in CPMs between their industry and syndication has narrowed, that idea has been dismissed by syndication and media buying executives.
“Sure, you may see the occasional cable show from a network like ESPN or MTV nab a deal similar to a D-level syndicated series, but it’s comparing apples to oranges,” said one source. “After all, when shows like Friends, Oprah and Entertainment Tonight continue to outdraw a lot of network series in pricing, there really is no comparison.”