SNTA Preview: Syndie Gaining Respect

Mar 7, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Jennie L. Phipps

Special to TelevisionWeek

Syndication used to be the red-haired stepchild of television advertising. Think wrestling and reruns.

Today, that perception is rapidly becoming a relic of the past. To begin with, 70 percent of syndicated programming is first-run, according to the Syndicated Network Television Association. These first-run shows are first-class audience draws.

At the end of December, a Harris Interactive poll identified Oprah Winfrey, Phil McGraw, Ellen DeGeneres and Regis Philbin among Americans’ 10 favorite TV personalities. Ms. Winfrey has topped the list for five of the past seven years.

Ray Romano, whose “Everybody Loves Raymond” is now in its last season on CBS and is also an off-network syndicated hit, was also among the 10 best-loved personalities. Syndicated runs of “Raymond” drew an average 6.8 Nielsen rating over the past eight months among all U.S. viewers, making it a top-five hit among all syndicated programs.

When TV Guide rounded up its end-of-the year report on television’s biggest events of 2004, two of the top three came from syndicated programming: Ms. Winfrey’s Pontiac giveaway and Ken Jennings’ winning streak on “Jeopardy!”

In terms of plain numbers, audiences for syndicated shows are growing. In 2004, these longtime favor-ites all had double-digit increases in number of viewers over the previous year, according to Nielsen Media Research:

  • “That ’70s Show” (weekend)-61 percent

  • “Everybody Loves Raymond”-30 percent

  • “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”-25 percent

  • “The People’s Court”-23 percent

  • “Judge Mathis”-18 percent

  • “The Oprah Winfrey Show”-11 percent

  • “Jeopardy!”-11 percent

    Media planner Ernie Simon is an advocate of using syndication to please his customers. “Broadcast reaches broader audiences, but the nature of syndication lends itself to targeting. It allows us to get beyond the one-two-threes of cable and add more heft than you can carve out of a broadcast schedule,” said Mr. Simon, the strategic planning director of MindShare.

    Syndicated programming is often a big winner in the way it involves viewers, said Andrew Donchin, executive VP and director of national broadcast for Carat USA. Consider “Oprah,” one of Mr. Donchin’s favorites: “Where else are you going to reach women who are so intensely involved with the programming?” he said. “When they are that intensely involved with the show, they also get involved with the commercials. We like that; that’s important to us.”

    Syndication also presents challenges. Mr. Simon said he thinks the price advantage that syndication once had is disappearing. “As broadcast ratings go down and [cost per thousand] goes up, the differences aren’t as great as they once were. So you have to be choosier when you approach the syndicated marketplace. You have to cherry-pick all the time.”

    It can be hard to persuade advertisers that syndicated programming is the way to go, said Peter Butchen, Initiative’s group director, national broadcast. “It’s not as clean-cut as network and cable. How the show gets aired is more complicated. It scares people off.”

    Mitch Burg, president of the SNTA, vigorously refutes the perception among planners that long lead times are required for syndication. He said that while that may have been true in the past, sophisticated new technology makes it just as easy and quick to position spots in syndicated programming as it is in broadcast or cable feeds.

    Still, Mr. Simon is skeptical. “It’s just not as flexible if you want to change or move things around,” he said.

    He also complained about the unpredictable timing of shows that are used by cable and local stations to fill gaps. “If you’re trying to sell coffee in the morning and heartburn medicine late at night, but things get moved around, syndication becomes more of a crapshoot.”

    In addition, he said, there aren’t as many ways in syndication as there are in broadcast to make good when ratings drop.

    But even with those reservations, he and others recommend advertising in the syndication market to their clients. “We as an agency are great supporters of syndication because it gives advertisers more choice, leads to better pricing and leads to a better media buy for our clients,” Initiative’s Mr. Butchen said.

    Some Major Syndie Programs Slated to Premiere in Fall 2005

    Martha: Martha Stewart, fresh out of prison, has a daytime talk show in the works. Her audience is mostly older women.

    Distributor: NBC Universal

    Station groups: NBC O&Os

    Clearances: 75 percent, 19 of top 20 markets

    The Tyra Banks Show: Ms. Banks, creator and host of UPN’s “America’s Next Top Model,” plans an hour-long talk show on topics relevant to young women.

    Distributor: Warner Bros.

    Station groups: Fox

    Clearances: 80 percent

    The Robin Quivers Show: Howard Stern’s sidekick is launching a talk show aimed at young women. If Mr. Stern pops in, young men may watch too.

    Distributor: Sony Pictures Television

    Station groups: TBA

    Clearances: TBA

    Judge Alex: Florida-based Judge Alex Ferrer will introduce a court show that is expected to have

    broad appeal.

    Distributor: Twentieth Television

    Station groups: Fox

    Clearances: 80 percent

    A Current Affair: It’s back, with scandals and celebrity gossip-just like the version that ran from 1986-96. Tim Green hosts.

    Distributor: Twentieth Television

    Station groups: Fox

    Clearances: 50 percent