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Syndie Market Sees Lull in Hits

Jan 24, 2005  •  Post A Comment

As top syndicators gather this week for NATPE, one issue at the top of many priority lists is how to attract more advertising revenue. To do that, according to an informal survey of top advertising executives, they need to come up with more big hit shows.

“There hasn’t been a megahit in syndication to draw [new] money in. It’s relatively stable, which is not a bad thing; it’s just not going up,” said Peter Butchen, senior VP and group director of national television for Initiative Media.

“The top syndicated shows have been around a long time,” added Ed Gentner, senior VP and group director of national broadcast at MediaVest.

“I think what you’re seeing is a lull right now as far as programming that’s coming into syndication. Part of that has to do with the plethora of reality that we’ve seen,” Mr. Gentner said. “With the strength of the dramas we’ve seen of late in network, you’ll probably see more of that coming into syndication, and hopefully that will bolster the syndication market a bit.”

Buyers noted that in the last upfront, millions of dollars shifted from the broadcast networks to cable.

“I think the eyeballs that are flowing out of network are not necessarily going into syndication,” Mr. Butchen said. “They seem to be going into cable, so the dollars are following where the viewers are going. The syndication ratings have been fine, they’ve been relatively stable, but there hasn’t been an influx of viewers into syndicated properties.”

Adding pressure is the soft scatter market, which also impacts broadcast and cable at present. “There are definitely some pretty large pockets where there is some softness. I see it as a bit of a carryover from the fourth quarter, where there were definitely availabilities,” Mr. Gentner said.

“You could drive a truck through many avails,” Mr. Butchen said. “And that’s all because the networks and syndicators and cable companies charged a rate that was too high in the upfront and they didn’t sell enough inventory and there’s very little scatter money behind it.”

Even in a tough market, there are things that can bring syndication more money, Mr. Butchen said, adding, “A significantly increased pool of high-rated shows or an unreasonably priced network marketplace and money will flow to a cheaper alternative. One of those two things needs to happen.”

Mitch Burg, president of the Syndicated Network Television Association, said syndication has had a terrific year. “We’re up 17 percent in ad revenue. In terms of ratings, we have nine shows that are up double digits versus a year ago,” he said. “I think the good news for us is people are recognizing what a great option syndication is in terms of delivering real ratings and in terms of generating high reach.”

Buyers said that top-tier syndicated hits generate prices that rival shows on broadcast networks, especially programs such as “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Seinfeld,” “Friends” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

“The thing about syndication is it gets good reach, it can pop good numbers and it’s somewhat more efficient than network television,” said Andy Donchin, director of national broadcast at Carat USA. “It’s not as efficient as cable, but if you compare the average rating in syndication to the average rating in cable and most time there’s a big gap there.”

Most ad agencies are sending relatively few staffers to NATPE. Those who are going are mostly involved in looking for product placement opportunities and integrated advertising deals with producers.

Mr. Butchen is among those not going to Las Vegas, but he said that four shows have already caught the agency’s eye.

“NBC has Martha Stewart. Whether you like her or not, that’s got Mark Burnett behind it, so that has the potential to do fairly well,” he said. “Another big name is `Tyra Banks,’ coming from Warner Brothers. That probably won’t do a huge number, but it will be interesting to see.”

He also said there could be interest in “The Robin Quivers Show” from Sony. “That depends on how many Howard Stern listeners go to watch her, and does she have a positive or negative rub-off from Stern,” he said. “Are advertisers going to shy away just because she’s associated with Stern, even though she’s not nearly as controversial as he is? She’s more of the moderate voice on the show.”

Mr. Butchen finds it interesting that 20th Television is coming back with “A Current Affair.” “Whether that works or not, who knows?” he said. “It is a 20-year-old show and you certainly don’t have Bill O’Reilly hosting it. It’s interesting to see everything old is new again, but if USA Today comes out with a show, I’m running to the hills.”

Instead of NATPE, ad buyers said they’re increasingly getting their syndication information from the SNTA conferences, which will be held in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles this year.

Mr. Donchin said SNTA is having some success pushing for the same top-of-mind status for syndication that cable enjoys. “I think that’s a move in the right direction,” he said, “because they’re not only trying to get out to the buyers and let them know what the product is, they’re trying to get to the planners so they can educate them on what it is.”