Familiar Faces

U nlike other broadcast models that frown on lack of originality, syndication often thrives by focusing on the familiar. By making sure not to deviate from the norm and risk alienating core viewers (women and adults 25-54 in particular), syndicators radiate a certain aura of durability in their offerings, which include first-run talk, game, court, reality and newsmagazines, as well as a peppering of off-network. There’s no other national TV environment that has so many veteran shows, many of them hits: Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy!, Oprah, Live With Regis & Kelly, Entertainment Tonight, Inside Edition and Ebert & Roeper, to name a few. Factor in the value of off-network product—sitcoms Friends, Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond representing the current “A” list of entries—and the economic forecast for syndication is positive.

Based on second quarter 2004, TV syndication saw an 18.4 percent year-to-year rise in its revenue, exceeding its previous quarterly gain of a solid 16.7 percent during first quarter 2004. According to forecasting provided by merchant bank Veronis Suhler Stevenson, expected total revenue in syndication of $2.5 billion in 2004 is projected to increase by 2.6 percent in 2005, 5.8 percent in 2006 and as much as 8.2 percent in 2008.

“With so many established programs anchoring syndication and King World extending the Oprah contract to 2011, there is every reason to believe the marketplace will benefit,” says Leo Kivijarv, vp, PQ Media LLC. However, the former director of research and publications for Veronis Suhler Stevenson notes that other than King World’s Dr. Phil and Warner Bros.’ The Ellen DeGeneres Show, nothing new has generated much interest in recent years. He also surmises that off-network product will eventually suffer from a dearth of new hit network sitcoms. Yet Kivijarv is upbeat. “Right now there are more than enough established hit syndicated series to carry the marketplace and bring more ad revenue in the future.”

Arguably the most anticipated of the new lot, NBC Universal’s The Jane Pauley Show faces an uphill battle given that the show averaged only a 1.7 rating/5 share in the overnight ratings after its first two weeks (Aug. 30 through Sept. 10, 2004), according to Nielsen Media Research. Comparably, that’s a decrease of 29 percent in rating from the lead-in (2.4/7) and 26 percent in rating from the year-ago time period (2.3/7). Early overnight results for Sony Pictures Television’s Life & Style, Warner Bros.’ The Larry Elder Show and two hybrids of talk and reality (NBC Universal’s Home Delivery and Sony’s Pat Croce: Moving In) are also performing below expectations. Of the new crop of first-run strips, only Buena Vista’s The Tony Danza Show is showing early signs of life.

“We’re all always looking for the next big name in talk,” says Buena Vista Television president Janice Marinelli who knows something about succeeding in the genre given the staying power of veteran Regis & Kelly. “Although court shows and game shows might be less expensive to produce, one big hit talk show can drive the entire company. We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again.”

Mitch Burg, president of the Syndicated Network Television Association, considers the first-run offerings particularly positive in 2004-05. He continues to educate buyers and media planners—indeed, anyone who will listen—on the value of purchasing syndication.

“The biggest thing about syndication right now is coming off a summer season where seven of the top 25 rated shows aired in syndication,” Burg says. “What many people don’t realize is that syndicated programs skew younger. In a business driven by young adult viewers, that’s a real bonus.”

According to the SNTA and based on data from Nielsen, syndicated talk, on average, skews 3.1 years younger than network soaps; syndicated newsmagazines are 6.6 years younger than network news; and syndicated relationship and/or game shows run; 10.8 years younger than late-night network talk. Off-network sitcoms, meanwhile, are an average 6.9 years younger than Big Four network sitcoms while off-network dramas run 7 years younger than network dramas.

“Strength, consistency and a young skew are three reasons why syndication will remain a staple in our business,” says Burg. “Unlike network and cable, there are no surprises when you buy syndication. You know exactly what you are getting.”

“Anyone who questions the value of syndication should focus on daytime for a moment,” adds Brad Adgate, senior vp of corporate research at Horizon Media. “What was once a prosperous daypart for the networks has all but evaporated because of syndication. Although network and cable get most of the attention, a growing model worth over $2.5 billion in advertising revenue is also worth noting.”

Marc “Mr. Television” Berman writes the Programming Insider for mediaweek.com.