SNTA’s Burg: A Year of Success

Jan 13, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Mitch Burg, president of the Syndicated Network Television Association, talked recently about the state of syndication with TelevisionWeek Senior Editor Jon Lafayette. Here is an edited version of that conversation.
TelevisionWeek: I’d like to start this off with a quick overview of the state of syndication. How is it stacking up?
Mitch Burg: It’s been a really good year. We have three new shows that are performing really strongly. We have “Family Guy,” which is the No. 1-rated sitcom now in syndication and I think last week in 18-34 was ranked No. 2 to “Family Guy” on Fox Network.
We have “Two and a Half Men,” which just continues to increase in audience every week, doing a great job. We have the introduction of “TMZ” from Warner Bros., which is an entertainment news show that’s distinctly different and has the profile of a sitcom, with a much younger audience than the other news programs on television.
TVWeek: Now I’m looking at the most recent sets of figures. According to TNS, syndication was down 4.6% in ad revenues for the first nine months of the year. Is that a reflection that TV is just tough all over, or is syndication still a little bit in the shadow of the broadcast and cable guys?
Mr. Burg: No, I think actually we’re in a really good place, in terms of marketers and agencies. They recognize what we bring to the game. While all television has issues, what’s interesting about syndication is we actually control the amount of programming that we go out with. So being up or down really doesn’t matter, because we don’t have to fill a 22-hour programming grid in prime time. We’re still network. So it’s not a fair base of comparison. But when you look at why marketers are looking differently at television and looking differently at syndication, we’ve been sharing with people that we have some of the top 10 nationally rated programs in all of television. On average, we have three every day of the week. And on Fridays in 18-34, for example, we have eight of the top 10 shows in all of television. So between our strong daily reach, our strong sitcoms—where we have two of the top five sitcoms with “Family Guy” and “[Everybody Loves] Raymond”—if you looked at evening news, what do you think the No. 1 evening news program is in television right now?
It’s “Entertainment Tonight,” which is doing a 20% higher audience than [ABC’s] “World News Tonight” [in the 25-54 demo].
TVWeek: What does that say about the state of our country?
Mr. Burg: People are increasingly turning to “Entertainment Tonight” for an exciting look at what’s going on the industry. You have three evening news broadcasts with a lot of attention being paid to them, and the top-rated one in 25-54 is doing a 2.0. And “[NBC] Nightly News” is doing anywhere between a 1.8 and a 2.0. “Entertainment Tonight” is a 2.4 and “The Insider” does a 1.5. … I’ve got two of the top four. And of course in daytime, where everybody continuously references “General Hospital” as the gold standard, … in women 25 to 54, I have three programs that beat “General Hospital”: “Dr. Phil,” “Live With Regis and Kelly” and “Judge Joe Brown.”
TVWeek: Still, these figures that the forecasters are starting to throw around have got to be a little bit disappointing. Is it a tough year out there in the advertising market for the syndicators?
Mr. Burg: Our marketplace continues to perform strongly, and as our ratings performance bears out, people are continually turning to syndication as an important part of their marketing mix.
TVWeek: How has the change to C3, the commercial ratings, affected syndication?
Mr. Burg: It’s been a great thing for us. We’ve been doing this research now for over two years, looking at TiVo research and looking at Nielsen research relating to commercial minutes, and the new Nielsen data bears out what we’ve been saying. We continue to be highest in live in terms of all entertainment programming. On average we’re at 86% live, with the entertainment news shows being over 90% live. So you can’t skip a commercial when you’re watching it in real time. … Highest in live means you can count on the viewers seeing the commercial faster, and that becomes very important for categories like restaurants and retail and movies and cars, where, frankly, if you wait the three days to get the audience, the sale is over.
One of the things people don’t talk about is what happens during program playback in DVRs. … Remember, only 14% of the audience plays those back in general. But 70% of the people watch the commercials in syndication, whereas only 40% watch it in network prime time [during playback].
TVWeek: Why do you suppose that is?
Mr. Burg: Our programs are generally more important to the viewer. We talked about our deeper emotional connections. And our breaks are shorter. … We’re talking about 15% to 30% shorter than our national counterparts.
Forty-eight percent of our strip units are “A” positions. In a C3 world, where you’re looking at an average commercial minute, we don’t give them the opportunity to tune away. And we all know that the first commercial minute not only has higher audience, it also has superior recall. If you’re in a very heavily cluttered category—there are some categories that have 500,000 commercials a year running nationally, which translates to one commercial every minute of the year—we’re the only place where you can run without having a competitor directly behind you. But C3 is good for syndication.
TVWeek: What’s going on in the digital world? The networks are all running their shows online, on-demand, and cable guys are following up with them.
Mr. Burg: Where they own the right. Remember, syndication sells the content. What’s interesting about digital is it actually creates a new opportunity for marketers.
We do so many hours of first-run programming—“Entertainment Tonight” or any of the entertainment news shows is doing a minimum of 200 original episodes every year and the talk shows are 39 weeks on average. It creates the opportunity to not just talk about delivering digitally, but marketing on a multiplatform basis. And that’s one of the things that we’re starting to share with the marketing community. We’re doing deals, for example, you wrote up yourself the deal between “Live With Regis & Kelly” and Walgreens.
TVWeek: Right.
Mr. Burg: And that was not only television [and] Web, it also included outbound e-mail as well as in-store support. So that was really a pretty terrific example of direct connection to the consumer. But that’s not the only place that it’s happening. You know Rachael Ray did a tie-in with Staples talking about how to remodel home offices. Ellen [DeGeneres] did that wonderful—did you see the live commercial that she did for Toyota?
TVWeek: I heard about it.
Mr. Burg: Talk about impactful, when the host basically stops the show, gets up and does a live commercial for Toyota. She even came back at the end of the program and kind of did it in a very humorous approach where she did a second thing that you should consider a Highlander. People didn’t only see that on the television program, I frankly saw it on the Web … on the show Web site.
We’ve been involved with text-messaging programs, we’ve been involved with putting content in different places. Again, since we’re in the content business, this move to digital actually puts syndication at a great advantage.
TVWeek: But you can’t put any content on the Web unless you have a partnership with the people who are buying the show.
Mr. Burg: We put content on our Web sites every day. And that’s obviously a key to succeeding in today’s television world.
TVWeek: Are those Web sites generating a significant amount of money for your clients?
Mr. Burg:
I don’t get involved with commerce and I also deal with salesmen. So the answer is yes, more than you would think, but …frankly anything I would be saying would be second-hand and I don’t know that data.
TVWeek: Also, integration is another area that a lot of advertisers are interested in. We’re seeing some of that in syndication as well.
Mr. Burg: Actually we’ve been the leaders in that. … One of the studio presidents told me, I think four years ago, he said our great advantage is I can go from start to finish on programs within 30 days. Imagine if you went into production with somebody in August and you’re still waiting for that episode to run in February. Assuming that the episode was actually shot.
TVWeek: Right. So is there a lot of that going on?
Mr. Burg: Sure.
TVWeek: Any good examples?
Mr. Burg: The live commercial with Ellen is probably the preeminent example this year. The preeminent example in all of history is probably Oprah’s Pontiac giveaway. So are people doing it? Sure. Are we doing it better? It seems that way.
TVWeek: How’s the writers strike going to affect you guys going forward?
Mr. Burg: Doesn’t impact us at all. We’re business as usual. About 70% of our programming is first-run, and it continues to be a daily entertainment experience with no changes for our viewers and for our off-net syndication. We’re giving them the best programs in television.
TVWeek: But with the strike affecting the broadcasters and maybe cable, is there any kind of advantage that you see as the strike goes on?
Mr. Burg: Of course. We’re going to see an increasing amount of reality in network prime time. We’re going to see an increasing amount of repeats. Right now, as we’re talking, we’re in Christmas season. And last year the networks ran 45% of their inventory as repeats in December. So consider that we’re talking about the No. 1 retail event of the year, the retail event that makes or breaks it for many retailers, and basically the networks are not putting their best foot forward, where syndication continues to deliver strongly across the entire month of December. What happens in the summer when the networks go to that high reality, high repeat mix, the ratings go down significantly.
TVWeek: Right.
Mr. Burg: And you know there’s reason to believe, probably with the exception of “American Idol,” that you’re going to see similar declines for network. In comparison, all of syndication’s top programs will do better than the network prime-time average.
TVWeek: Any changes in the way you’re reaching out to the buyers and the planners?
Mr. Burg: We are on message.
TVWeek: And that message is?
Mr. Burg: That message is syndication on a day-in/day-out basis delivers consistently across the air with top-rated programs, with quality programs and with programs where viewers have an emotional connection, and you couldn’t say the same thing about other areas of television.
TVWeek: You guys stopped having any kind of big upfront presentation. The networks are talking about doing the same thing. Does that make sense to you, that the networks would give up on doing the big show?
Mr. Burg: Yeah, I saw Mr. Zucker’s comments. I think everybody is looking to put their best foot forward in a way that is most meaningful to buyers and marketers.
TVWeek: And when you talk to the buyers, what is it that they really want to talk about most?
Mr. Burg: For the most part I don’t talk to buyers, I talk to planners and I talk to the clients directly. And every one of them has an individual goal in mind. It might be how do I drive more traffic today. I had one retailer who told me they were concerned that their spots ran after midnight. … I said we’re in a C3 world and he’s worried about cutoff at midnight. Who could worry about a cutoff at midnight three days later in this C3 world? So everybody has different tasks in front of them, and what we try to do is provide people with a perspective on how to help them achieve their individual task.
TVWeek: Is NAPTE going to remain a sales platform for you?
Mr. Burg: I will be at NAPTE. I will be meeting with a lot of wonderful people.


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