"It has a significant place at the table," said Bill Carroll, VP-programming at Katz Media Group. "Obviously we're going to see more and more of the opportunities that exist uniquely, especially in the talk arena, or for advertiser messages to be integrated into program content or sponsorship of program segments. In many ways, that's old-style TV coming back again."
One company hoping to sell marketers into integrated deals this year is the syndicated unit of NBC Universal, which lost a celebrity draw in Megan Mullally when it canceled the "Will & Grace" star's talk show in January. But a new weapon in NBCU's arsenal is branded-integration guru Arianna Squar, who joined last month from FeistyFlix/ Fallon Worldwide. Ms. Squar's past experience included work on "The Apprentice" as well as the Mark Burnett-produced "The Casino."
Barabar "Bo" Argentino, the NBC group's sales chief, spoke with Ad Age about her programming schedule, the surprising staying power of some of the network's oldest shows and the enduring importance of the upfront for syndicated buyers.
MediaWorks: At this time last year, you were taking the much-anticipated "Megan Mullally Show" to market in about 70% of your stations. But after a steady decline in ratings since its September premiere, the show was canceled in January. What did you learn from the experience?
Bo Argentino: It's so hard to do a daytime first-run in this day and age. But it was a success for us in many ways. It brought a lot of advertisers to the fold in ways for them to re-express. We managed to sell and execute a number of integrations, many of which were in the fourth quarter, so we really picked up a lot of experience in that part of the business. We also ended up being able to steal from the show to represent branded integrations in all of our programming, and we've brought in Arianna Squar. I mean, you live and learn. TV's a tough business, but you keep moving on.
MediaWorks: While Megan Mullally didn't turn out to be the next big personality-driven talk show, your next entry in that market is "Steve Wilkos," starring the ex-Jerry Springer bodyguard. What else do you have high hopes for on the programming slate?
Ms. Argentino: "Reel Talk" is a show that's had very strong ratings at marginal time periods [locally], such as Saturday mornings at 10. Once we go national, we can do online executions. It's probably going to be very upscale and it's more fast-paced than other shows in other genres. It's already out delivering its main competitors in New York during that time slot.
MediaWorks: How will digital factor into your upfront negotiations this year?
Ms. Argentino: Nowadays, it's such an important part of every advertiser's execution. They're telling us that's what they want. In this sales group, we have hired now not only an integration person but also one of the digital ad-sales people in our space. She's physically moved so she can work with us on every sales proposal.
MediaWorks: Traditionally, daytime has been a great way to reach the older, female ends of the 18-49 and 25-54 demos. But have you learned anything about your audiences that's a little outside those norms?
Ms. Argentino: You'd probably be surprised to know that "Maury" is one of the youngest-skewing daytime shows out there. People have a very different impression of him; he's very strong in the young demos.
MediaWorks: Syndication has also consistently been recognized by Magna Global as having the highest commercial engagement. What do you attribute that to?
Ms. Argentino: We've really benefited from the fact that people are really dedicated to these shows. We have shorter breaks and less clutter. A lot of people are sticking with the shows and retaining the audience or commercial message better. I also think that there's not as much new programming coming out next year so you're going to see a lot of opportunities for our new shows like "Law and Order: Criminal Intent" serve as great counter-programming to the Monday-through-Friday sitcoms that have been on the air for a long time.
MediaWorks: How has the importance of upfront season changed in the syndication market?
Ms. Argentino: It's been very interesting. [Twenty] years ago you really did about 75% of your overall business in the upfront. That's not just syndication, that's everybody. We all looked forward to booking inventory so we knew what happened over the year. But our programs are on different cycles; some are premiering in the summer, the reality shows don't run 52 weeks a year. Advertisers are changing the way we approach business. We want to be able to do things pre-upfront and we want to be able to do things during the upfront. We know the money is there and we're still looking to support the media, we're just doing it a little more methodically.
MediaWorks: Last year's upfront was particularly drawn out across the board. Do you have any sense of what the length might be like this year?
Ms. Argentino: The upfront will happen more slowly and more deliberately, certainly more than years preceding. We already are talking to people about all sorts of things, but we all have deadlines we have to meet in terms of production for advertisers looking to be involved [from the beginning.]
MediaWorks: Any dayparts you think might fare well?
Ms. Argentino: Daytime is strong this year. It's very efficient relative to others and stands a good chance at being a little bit better than in other years. We're also way up in terms of our performance on some of our shows. "Access Hollywood" has had a huge year, and its network adjacency has been well sold throughout the year. When you're in a sales organization you're able to represent shows that have been on the air for years, so to be gaining or retaining an audience is a huge win that we've had with "Access Hollywood."