UPFRONT 1997: Syndication Can’t Wait: New prime-time shows, higher net rates break syndie market early

By Michael Freeman

As long as the share of network TV viewers continues to erode, the distributors of syndicated programming will be able to prey off their misfortune. Undoubtedly, advertisers are still captivated by the national reach of the broadcast networks, but it is a benchmark syndicators feel they are coming close to equaling or surpassing in certain dayparts.

It could also be a major reason why more and more New York media buyers are making preemptive moves to open the syndication upfront sales market weeks before the networks’ concerted upfront sales campaigns. Behind the logic of making an early move is the buyers’ desire to use the threat of increased syndication buys as leverage against the revenue-hungry networks, as well as expressing an eagerness to move large bulks of their first- and second-tier inventory before the nets devalue their market.

“There is a huge amount of money out there, yet buyers are not going to put up with huge increases from the networks,” says Jon Barovick, vp of advertiser sales for Tribune Entertainment. “Even though the networks’ shares continue to decline, it is only making them more aggressive about getting upper-teen increases for CPMs they will charge advertisers. And the advertisers know they have to buy more GRPs to make up for the lost reach, so it is a double-whammy.”

So Barovick and other barter syndication sales execs will again be looking to slice into the networks’ share of major ad dollars in prime time. Barovick’s ad sales division will be concentrating on selling a pair of new action-adventure series, Nightman and Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: The Final Conflict., which will have early fringe and prime-time positions on the Tribune Broadcasting-owned stations in the top-10 markets.

“As partners in the show, what’s great about the Tribune station group is that they throw off strong ratings for other hit syndicated hours like Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: The Warrior Princess,” adds Barovick.

Quite understandably, prime time on the networks also serves as a springboard for selling off-network sitcoms and hour-long dramas in syndication. Although virtually every major drama series has been sold to the cable networks since the mid-1980’s, the upcoming fall 1997 weekend reruns of Twentieth Television’s The X-Files and NYPD Blue is giving buyers good reason to snap up inventory early. Then, of course, brand-recognizable sitcoms, such as Paramount’s Frasier and Carsey-Werner Distribution’s Grace Under Fire, will also command top dollars.

In first-run syndication, Dan Cosgrove, president of Eyemark Media Sales (a syndication sales division owned by CBS), says daytime television has “suddenly become the hottest it’s been in years.”

Cosgrove says the “pecking order” for buyers of talk shows is still led by The Oprah Winfrey Show, Rosie O’Donnell, Live with Regis & Kathie Lee, Montel and Maury Povich. But with the emphasis on cleaner, “advertiser-friendly” talk shows, he suggests that Eyemark’s Martha Stewart Living and The Gayle King Show is fueling buyer interest in “content-driven” shows.

Cosgrove cites the Advertiser Syndicated Television Association research report to advertisers last month, which claims that syndication reaches 66 percent of all TV households in daytime, while the networks reach a combined 57 percent.

“The data shows that syndication is a broad-reach medium comparable to network, which is something advertisers are embracing,” says Tim Duncan, the ASTA’s executive director. °

Copyright ASM Communications, Inc. (1997) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED