SNTA on the Road: Content a Factor in Syndie Choices

Mar 21, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Lee Alan Hill

Special to TelevisionWeek

Not all rating points in syndication are created equal.

While high ratings can be counted on to attract advertising dollars, content also figures into the mix, according to executives in syndication and ad sales. Shows that are thought to put audiences in the mood to take in the commercial message can get more return for their Nielsen buck.

While not a term officially in the lexicon of television, these shows are often called “premium buys” because the demand for their units can be greater than their ratings might otherwise suggest.

“Generally a less-controversial program has an edge over a controversial one and could be attracting a better advertising rate,” said Ray Dundas, senior VP and group advertising director for national broadcast at Initiative.

“We see this with talk shows in daytime,” Mr. Dundas said. “Some of these shows could have sensitive issues as part of their content. Advertisers may shy away.”

The reverse is also true. Shows that are “light and merely entertaining” be-come more desirable for ad buys, Mr. Dundas said.

Programs cited in this category include “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “Live With Regis and Kelly” and “The Tony Danza Show.”

In the case of “Danza,” its renewal for a second season was considered tenuous going into the National Association of Television Program Executives conference in January, given that it had only a 1.3 season-to-date national household rating, according to the Nielsen Television Index. But the show came away from the conference with an 85 percent market reach and within weeks had secured favorable daytime time periods in Los Angeles (on KCAL-TV or KCBS-TV) and Chicago (WMAQ-TV).

Buyers attributed its success to the fact that it delivers entertainment devoid of topical debate and the sturm und drang of dysfunctional families and relationships.

“These are shows people want to be associated with,” said Howard Levy, SNTA chairman and executive VP of ad sales for Buena Vista Television, which distributes both “Regis and Kelly” and “Danza.” “I think that’s true of any media. There are premium magazines due as much to the audience as the circulation.”

Absorbing the Message

On the flip side, Mr. Dundas cited “Maury” and “Montel,” hosted by Maury Povich and Montel Williams, respectively. Both shows have spent years on the air, maintain a loyal audience and do just fine in terms of ad revenues, Mr. Dundas said, but, “Some clients may not want to buy them because of the content of some of their episodes.”

Elizabeth Herbst-Brady, senior VP and director of broadcast investment at Starcom USA, included “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Wheel of Fortune” and off-network hits “Friends” and “Frasier” on her list of premium buys. “Quality entertainment with good ratings will get a good price, possibly more because of basic supply and demand,” she said.

“A lot goes into the price of the shows,” she said. “A show like ‘Ellen’ is what can be called a ‘happy show.’ That’s a show where people are talking and people are laughing and someone is singing a song, and the home audience is considered more willing to absorb the advertiser’s message.”

“There are also shows that may have specific different segments, like a cooking segment or a fashion segment,” Ms. Herbst-Brady said. “Units around those segments might go for more. And then there are holiday or theme shows that also can sell for a premium.

“But on an ongoing basis, if the ‘happy show’ is delivering its target audience-and in daytime that means women-its revenues will reflect the demand.”

Buyers and sellers alike declined to reveal costs per thousand, but all agreed the scenario plays out based on the demand for available units. A typical buy is two or three spots in a week, perhaps 20 over a season. If there are, say, 100 units and there are 10 buyers who want 20 units each, you have twice as many requests as availabilities, and the syndicator can charge more.

Over the course of a season, a daytime talk show may be selling 2,000 units, and while all successful shows certainly have ample buyers, the premium or “happy” shows have more demand per unit.

‘Ellen’ Stands Out

It is Ellen DeGeneres’ show, which, in its second season, just received 11 Daytime Emmy nominations, that is most often cited as a “premium buy.” The fact that Ms. DeGeneres is out as a lesbian could have been considered an obstacle to the show’s success, at least in some parts of the country. However, stations, viewers and advertisers alike have embraced her persona, honed in her stand-up comedy act, which is that of an apolitical, slightly befuddled Everyperson, dealing with human foibles and life’s small challenges.

Michael Teicher, executive VP of media sales for Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, who oversees the sale of “Ellen” to Madison Avenue, would not disclose revenue figures but said, “The show is the most lighthearted, advertiser-friendly show on television, not just in daytime. The household income numbers are incredibly impressive. We’ve got a female audience with lots of disposable income.”

Ratings for “Ellen,” according to Nielsen figures, are up 24 percent this season over its premiere season. It’s averaging a 2.1 household rating season to date, and recently climbed as high as a 2.5. “I’m not going to say it’s ever easy to sell a show,” Mr. Teicher said. “But when the advertiser does not have to spend even a minute worrying about content they might find objectionable, it can be a plus.”