The Power of Personality

Apr 16, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Bolstered by a broadcast season that saw the launch of breakout hit “Rachael Ray,” a $4.2 billion upfront and a slew of positive studies, syndicators are optimistic about the upfronts for next season.

A number of surveys conducted by the Syndication National Television Association in recent months have projected syndication as an outlet with shorter pods, a higher trust factor and higher commercial retention.

“SNTA is doing a great job getting to planners and advertisers,” said Bo Argentino, senior VP of advertising and media sales for NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution. “Their research has opened up some eyes out there.”

In a move to increase syndication’s share of the advertising pie, the SNTA has conducted studies in recent months to show the power of these personalities. In large part the studies aimed to determine the effect of that “trust factor” on audiences in a country increasingly populated by DVR homes. Advertisers have grown wary of the resulting timeshifting and commercial skipping in those households.

According to the studies, trust and identification with a show’s star result in higher engagement with a series; they are also a primary reason viewers watch shows on the same day they were aired. Mr. Burg noted 95 percent of syndication’s adults 18 to 49 audience watches syndicated programs on the day of airing, compared with the four days it takes for network programs to hit that mark.

That high percentage is helped by syndication formatting programs to keep commercial pods brief, according to Mr. Burg. He cites statistics indicating that 95 percent of viewers of syndicated programming stay through the show’s commercial breaks, and that they have higher ad recall than viewers of other programming.

In addition, advertisers are looking to attach themselves to hosts audiences trust, and recent index scores revealed that with viewers inviting the likes of Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah Winfrey and Kelly Ripa into their homes multiple days a week, trust scores of syndicated hosts are high.

“It’s all about trust,” said Mitch Burg, president of SNTA. “Trust and credibility deliver a higher return on investment for advertisers, and no one can provide that better on television than syndicated series. Whether it’s ‘Oprah,’ ‘Ellen,’ ‘Wheel of Fortune’ or ‘Regis and Kelly,’ our brands enter people’s homes five times a week and set trends across the country. Ellen holds a watch up to the camera and the manufacturer’s Web site crashes. That’s the power of these brands.”

In early estimates, Universal McCann, New York, predicts a 6 percent surge in ad spending on syndicated shows in 2007 for a total of $4.3 billion.

Meanwhile, Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen cited the strong scatter market as one reason for her forecast that this year’s upfront will be up 3 percent to $8.7 billion in broadcast prime time and up 3 percent for cable and syndication.

“Advertisers are learning that syndication is really terrific because we have so many long-running and well-established popular programs across multiple dayparts, whether it’s ‘Ellen,’ ‘Access Hollywood’ or ‘Regis and Kelly,'” said Bob Cesa, executive VP of advertising sales for Twentieth Television. “In addition, with the network producing fewer and fewer sitcoms, syndication provides advertisers an opportunity to reach a sitcom audience five or six days a week.”

Mr. Cesa noted that Twentieth in particular is in a good position this year because the company is launching three new series, including off-net runs of “Family Guy,” morning strip “Morning Show With Mike and Juliet” and game show “Temptation.”

“We are adding on a lot of advertisers who are either new or hadn’t worked with us in a while, and that’s always a strong sign,” he said, adding that he’s seeing particular interest from quick service, casual dining, telecommunication and financial companies this year.

Over at NBC Universal, the company is pitching advertisers its array of new programming, which includes stripped and weekend runs of the “Law & Order” franchises and a new talk show with host Steve Wilkos, as well as taking on ad sales for Program Partners’ upcoming game show “Let’s Do Crosswords.”

“We have the most new programming of anybody out there,” said Ms. Argentino. “That’s not bad considering only a couple years ago we were a small group. What we’re offering advertisers this year is that we are able to accommodate all of an advertiser’s needs throughout the digital spectrum for someone looking to round out a media buy. We also have a brand integration director with both marketing and production experience, which is vital to successfully have a fully integrated show.”

Tribune Entertainment is looking to make its mark, now that ownership issues of its parent company have been settled.

“It took us four months to prove we are going forward as an entity,” said Clark Morehouse, executive VP and general manager of Tribune Entertainment. “With the marketplace so very strong right now, it’s a great time to start the whole process of reminding advertisers that our programs, such as ‘American Idol Rewind’ and ‘South Park,’ have really delivered.”

Mr. Morehouse noted the company was “really bearing down” with cellular and telecommunication companies and also was poised to do some business in the family restaurant category, including McDonalds.

In addition, commercial ratings could help boost the syndicator’s sales pitch. Distributors are emphasizing that commercial ratings will point to the low clutter and high live tune-in for their shows.

“The good news is that it looks as if syndication tends to benefit more in the early data,” said Amy Carney, executive VP, advertiser sales, Sony Pictures Television. “Before diverting money to less proven media and overlooking syndication, stop. It all exists right there. That has consistently been our message. It’s even more important this year because of commercial ratings and TiVo.”