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Filling the Oprah Void

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Oprah Winfrey’s exit in May might not be the end-of-days scenario for the syndication upfront many predicted when she announced last year that her daytime juggernaught was ending.

The strength of the overall TV market suggests that this year’s syndie upfront could be just as strong (if not stronger) than last year’s, Oprah or no Oprah. Scatter pricing at top syndicated programs is up between 25-30 percent from the rates established during the upfront, and clients in resurgent categories (packaged goods, retail) are expected to flood the zone in order to avoid having to pay such inflated rates next season.

And beyond the marketplace roaring back to life, there is the economics of Oprah herself.

“What most people don’t realize is about 80 or 90 percent of the revenue from Oprah’s show goes into her pocket,” said one top media buyer. “So the impact on CBS [Television Distribution] and the overall syndication marketplace will not be as catastrophic as many think. Plus, Oprah’s ratings are not as strong as they once were.”

Certainly her exit will leave a significant hole to fill in daytime.

“It defies conventional wisdom that the syndication landscape will not be hurt by Oprah’s departure,” said Brad Adgate, head of corporate research at Horizon Media. “I do think Regis [Philbin] leaving could also be detrimental . . . it’s a personality driven show and has been very popular with viewers for decades. But the bigger concern is Oprah because Regis can always decide to extend his tenure, and the hit Disney-ABC franchise is not ending.”

Like most established TV franchises, Oprah is down significantly from its heyday. But the show still stands well above anything else of a talk-driven nature, with a 4.9 rating in households and as high as a 3.1 rating among target women 25-54 through March 20.

That’s on par from one year earlier, with an advantage over No. 2 Dr. Phil, also from CBS, of 75 percent in households and 107 in the target female demo. The going rate for a 30-second spot in the Oprah finale is a cool $1 million, or about 10 times the show’s going rate.

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