TV Report: Programming

Syndication Market Looks to New Stars Next Season

Talk Shows From Dr. Oz, Wendy Williams and Marie Osmond

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Judging by his patient demeanor and wide knowledge of how the human body functions, Dr. Mehmet Oz can find the cure to many ills. But it's not clear if he has the right stuff to clear up a rather noisome malady that has been troubling the TV marketplace for months -- economic malaise.

Dr. Oz
Dr. Oz Credit: Harpo Productions
Yes, this year's syndication marketplace certainly has its fair share of attractive properties, but media buyers suggest glitzy programs may not be enough to help syndicators triumph over a listless economy that has prompted marketers to keep a much tighter rein on their wallets.

"When you go and look at what's new and coming on, it looks like you're adding more inventory and fragmenting the audience further," said David Scardino, entertainment specialist at RPA, an independent agency based in Santa Monica, Calif. "And so syndication, like broadcast, like cable, is a classic marketplace. It's a supply-and-demand kind of situation, and obviously, the more availabilities you pump into the market, the more that has a depressing factor on price and CPM," a reference to the cost of reach 1,000 viewers.

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Indeed, several buyers expect the syndie upfront market to decline slightly from the estimated $2.4 billion in commitments that were secured in last year's ad negotiations.

That doesn't mean advertisers won't have a wide selection of both original and "off net," or repeats of popular broadcast-network TV shows, from which to choose. A new show featuring Dr. Oz, distributed by Sony, is among one of the more anticipated programs for the fall, according to buyers. The reason: Dr. Oz has seen his popularity grow during appearances on Oprah Winfrey's talk show, a method which has proven successful in launching a syndicated program in the past, as anyone familiar with "Dr. Phil" can tell you.

Another program that could draw eyeballs comes from former radio DJ Wendy Williams. Her "Wendy Williams Show" fared well enough in a test run that it will return starting this summer, distributed by Debmar-Mercury. Marie Osmond is also expected to launch a talk show in the fall from Program Partners, according to buyers, which could provide another interesting choice for advertisers.

One concept that has drawn interest is based on a prime-time broadcast program. "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" fared well when it was on News Corp.'s Fox network, and now an original version for syndication is set to launch. MyNetwork will air episodes of "5th Grader" in prime time.

Of course, some of the most durable programs in syndication are the ones that proved to be hits on broadcast. Some of these programs, including "Friends" and "Seinfeld," go on to find new life in the syndication aftermarket. In this category, buyers say they are looking at "Grey's Anatomy," which currently airs on ABC; "My Name is Earl," distributed by Twentieth Television and recently canceled by NBC; and "The Office," from NBC Universal.

But economics could triumph over selection, said RPA's Mr. Scardino. Pressure from marketers not to cough up price increases will slow the market down; indeed some executives estimate it will take all summer to complete syndication upfront buys, which typically don't begin until broadcast is negotiated. "If ever there was a year where it's more likely to drib and drab, this is it," Mr. Scardino said.

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