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Dual-Window Dueling

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With syndication?s upfront due to break within the next three weeks, syndicators want to leverage their off-network programming as a hedge in the event guild strikes leave the networks without scripted shows in the fall. However, buyers are bemoaning the declining ratings of top off-net shows. And there?s concern that repeats are distributed to too many platforms and viewers are getting tired of them.

"The issue is oversaturation," said one syndication buyer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Eventually, a show will get worn out, and its ratings will decline. This will be discussed during the upfront, and it will impact CPMs."

"I definitely think [multiplatform] distribution makes a show less valuable, and it definitely has an affect on ratings," echoed Dan Arzewski, vp of national broadcast, Creative Media.

With repeats stripped on cable and shown weekly in syndication, and while original episodes still air on the broadcast networks, top off-net dramas have seen double-digit ratings declines in syndication this season.

Warner Bros. Domestic TV?s E.R. is down 25 percent year-to-year, to a 3.0 HH rating from a 4.0, according to Nielsen Media Research. Twentieth Television?s The X-Files has dipped 14 percent, to a 3.7 from a 4.3, and NYPD Blue is off 15 percent, to a 1.7 from a 2.0. This fall, Warner Brothers? top-rated off-net sitcom, Friends, which already double-runs in syndication, will begin airing concurrently on TBS.

"I really dislike [multiplatform distribution] as a formula because it becomes so complicated to attach your identity to a show," said Virginia Hunt, programming director for KCAL-TV in Los Angeles, which schedules repeats of E.R. and NYPD Blue on Sundays.

Allison Bodenmann, president of the Syndicated Network Television Association, said it?s impossible to tie declining ratings to multiplatform distribution. "I don?t think you can tell if it?s normal fragmentation or the fact that it?s on so many times a week."

Meanwhile, buyer opinions were mixed as to whether syndicated programming could become a hot strike hedge. If strikes appear likely, "You could see [syndication] inventory get tight," said Kris Magel, vp, national broadcast, Optimedia International U.S. Others see the impact of a possible strike differently.

Citing what he thinks are ample strike contingency plans among the broadcast networks, Creative Media?s Arzewski said he doesn?t "think you?re going to see a mass exodus of dollars from network into syndication."