Toughing Out the 2009 TV Syndication Market

Dec 7, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Television syndication executives are looking to weather an economic storm in 2009 in which the revenue travails at TV stations will move up the chain toward programming distributors, affecting nearly every move they make.
Speaking at TelevisionWeek’s ninth annual Syndication Roundtable, syndication executives including CBS Television Distribution President John Nogawski said stations are feeling the brunt of the economic decline.
Syndie Roundtable
“The stations are definitely feeling the pain. … I’d say that anyone going out with a new show right now is having a different kind of conversation with a station than it was eight months ago. It’s amazing how quickly it turned,” Mr. Nogawski told TelevisionWeek editor Greg Baumann, who moderated the panel.
The soft market is forcing stations to make smaller offers for syndicated shows, which in turn may make it more difficult for syndicators to cover their production costs.
“When we go out and sell our products going forward, the local television stations are offering us less money than they normally would, even if we had a show that had three offers,” said Mort Marcus, co-president of Debmar-Mercury.
Mr. Marcus said the scatter market for advertising will be tough for stations given how weak the economy is.
“That’s why the license fees are lower, rightly so. If you’re a station and your revenues are down 40% or 30%, and someone brings you a new show, you’re not going to offer them the record price you’ve ever offered,” he said.
Mr. Nogawski said if stations can’t cover the fees associated with syndicated content, his company won’t be able to continue producing the same kind of quality it currently does.
“We can only produce a show for what we can produce it for,” he said. “If they’ve taken the license fee and cut it into 25% of what we once were paid, then we can’t afford to produce the show. They’re putting themselves into a situation we can’t afford to be in business with.”
Jim Paratore, executive producer of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution’s “The Bonnie Hunt Show” and “TMZ,” said the economy will lead to cost pressures on producers.
“Whenever there’s less money, it trickles down to production eventually,” he said. “So, in terms of shows that are on the margin, those are conversations being had. In the case of launching new shows, is the marketplace going to be stepping up and paying for them?”
Several executives on Tuesday’s panel foreshadowed the job cuts that ripped through the television industry this week, when NBC Universal and Viacom pared a combined 1,300 jobs.
“We’re constantly looking at cost savings, how to generate more revenue, how to bring more value to advertisers,” said Bo Argentino, NBC Universal Television Distribution senior VP of advertising and media sales.
Mitch Burg, president of the Syndicated Network Television Association, told the panel that in economic bad times, syndication offers advertisers good value vis-a-vis broadcast and cable.
Personalities whom audiences trust and the relatively low use of digital video recorders in syndication are the keys, he said.
The syndication industry’s cost-consciousness also will affect the 2009 convention of the National Association of Television Program Executives next month in Las Vegas. While the roundtable panelists agreed the show needs to exist in some form, they said the scale of the event may not be appropriate given the consolidation that has reduced the number of buyers and sellers in the market. NATPE has evolved into a bazaar for programming across different media as consolidation has sapped some of the vitality from the syndication market.
“So few people are controlling the whole business that whether or not you need that extensive a meet makes it hard to justify the bottom line,” Mr. Paratore said of NATPE.
Another factor looming over the syndication industry is the possibility that Oprah Winfrey will exit the landscape when her contract ends in 2011.
If Oprah leaves, stations currently airing the show would suffer the most, Mr. Burg said.
“[Oprah] is so important because it’s driving viewers into the news,” he said.
Mr. Nogawski, whose company distributes Oprah’s show, said he would “do anything” to persuade Ms. Winfrey to stay with CBS Television Distribution in syndication—even if it means drastically changing the program’s format.
“I’d rather have a little Oprah than no Oprah,” he said.


  1. Amazing freakin blog here. I almost cried while reading it!

  2. High quality info here! Keep up the great work. I love the feelings being expressed.

Your Comment

Email (will not be published)