Syndication on the Way to a Comeback

Dec 22, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The dark era may or may not be over.
Analysts and insiders, who for years predicted the fall of syndicated programming, received a thump in 2003 as audiences rediscovered syndie fare, new series broke from the pack and ad rates jumped for top-tier shows.
More than half a million more households granted syndicators the gift of viewership during the November 2003 sweeps than they did last November, helping top series in the talk show, court show and newsmagazine arenas to grow or maintain their 2002 ratings.
Strips such as “Dr. Phil” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and off-network entry “That ’70s Show” blossomed as they graduated from freshman to sophomore status. “Dr. Phil” provided distributor King World and producer Paramount a 27 percent growth spurt in the show’s first sweeps-to-sweeps comparison, averaging a 5.7 national household rating during November sweeps. “Millionaire” shot up 29 percent to a 3.6 average, and “That ’70s Show” was up 3 percent to a 3.9 household rating.
In addition, syndicators claimed a $2.3 billion upfront last spring and are expecting to reap even more in 2004.
That said, industry executives maintain it’s clear the business has a lot to figure out as growing consolidation and heavy competition from cable continue.
The members of the 2003-04 freshman class have yet to prove themselves as long-term series. Despite promising growth from shows such as NBC’s young-skewing “Starting Over,” only Telepictures’ rookie “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” has shown the potential among new first-run programming to break the 2.0 mark within a year. “Ellen” took home top freshman honors during the November sweeps with a 1.6, up 14 percent over its September debut.
Among other rookies, “Sharon Osbourne” averaged a 1.5 for the period, which was even with its debut; “Starting Over” was up 25 percent over its debut with a 1.0 rating; “Wayne Brady” was up 11 percent to a 1.0; and “Living It Up! With Ali & Jack” was unchanged over its premiere.
Given the difficulties of launching a strip above the 2.0 threshold but knowing that 4.0 is possible, syndicators who at one time were launching two programs a year pulled in the reins this year. Syndicators Tribune, Buena Vista and Paramount offered no new first-run strips for the 2003 season. The trend could continue through the 2004 National Association of Television Program Executives convention as distributors with plenty of real estate, such as King World and Warner Bros., may opt not to bring new first-run series to the market.
Thus far, the only new series sold for fall 2004 aim to take advantage of vertical integration. Paramount’s “Entertainment Tonight” spinoff “The Insider” was sold to the CBS stations, NBC Enterprises made a deal for its Jane Pauley talk show with the NBC owned-and-operated stations, and Fox-owned Twentieth Television’s “On-Air With Ryan Seacrest” and “Ambush Makeover” will go to the Fox-owned stations.
Meanwhile, the syndication consortium Syndicated National Television Association offered to a standing-room-only crowd in New York its first advertiser presentation, designed to bring attention to the success of syndication. The presentation was successful enough that the group will hold the meeting again in March and expand it to include confabs in Chicago and Los Angeles. However, the group parted ways with organization president Gene DeWitt and is still searching for a new chief.