BUYERS SHOWING NEW FASCINATION WITH 'FRIENDS' -- SYNDICATION OUTLOOK: TALK IS ABOUT ROSEANNE, ROSIE AND, YES, SPRINGER

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Talk shows such as "The Jerry Springer Show," "The Roseanne Show" and "The Magic Hour," along with "Friends," a remake of the "Hollywood Squares" and hourlong action dramas, are among syndication's hot-button fare this year.

Advertiser Syndicated Television Association predicts sales will top the $2 billion mark for the first time, increasing a moderate 5% this year to $2.050 billion. Syndication sales for 1997 were $1.950 billion, according to Tim Duncan, executive director of ASTA.

RATINGS UP A BIT

"Without knowing where the overall market is going, we think we are going to see a bump up in syndication," says Mr. Duncan. "Our ratings are a bit higher than last year, especially in certain key dayparts."

Bob Flood, senior VP of national broadcast, DeWitt Media, New York, says he also foresees a slight rise in syndication prices this year.

"I think there may be a little bit more of migration of dollars into syndication because of the number of off-network shows available," says Mr. Flood.

"Advertisers who couldn't afford `Seinfeld' on a network basis now have access to big shows like that via syndication.

" `X-Files,' `Frasier,' `NYPD Blue' and other big shows have track records that have proven quite adventageous based on a cost comparison basis."

COMPARABLE BUDGETS

Ad sales have continued to be strong since syndication experienced a big jump during the 1994-95 season, when prices were 20% to 40% higher than the previous year. Since then, prices have remained steady, rising not much more than the level of inflation.

"Financially, overall the market will be slow," forecasts Lee Doyle, exec VP and co-media director for Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York. Mr. Doyle says his budget will be about the same as last year.

Many syndicated buyers and sellers consider the level of spending strong, and they expect it to remain level this year in spite of continuing fragmentation of media.

"Package goods are placing dollars in syndication early," says Mr. Flood. "Telecommunications will be strong, as well as movie studios."

"Demand is built emotionally. If you are a buyer, and you had a great upfront season the year before and the scatter market was tight as hell," you're relaxed, says Jean Pool, exec VP-North American director of media services at J. Walter Thompson USA, New York.

"Everyone is calm right now, so the anxiety level is not high. And it takes a high anxiety level to blast off the upfront."

ASTA is a bit more optimistic about syndication sales this year.

"Because of the fragmenting of media, advertisers want reach and efficiency. You get reach from the networks and efficiency from cable, but we think the best way to get both is through syndication," says Mr. Duncan. "We think there will be some high demand for syndication this year."

NEW SHOWS

Still, buyers point to the lack of hot new off-network shows as a reason for flat sales. Several new first-run shows are scheduled to premiere in syndication, but buyers are cautious so far about buying many of them.

"First on the list is `Rosie O'Donnell,' and everybody else is second," says one media buyer. "I'm also very interested in Magic Johnson's show, because I think it has tremendous potential."

Ms. Pool has taken a wait-and-see attitude about many of the new shows.

"I've been wrong too many times," she notes.

The big news in off-net this fall is "Friends," says Mr. Duncan.

"Advertisers have found ["Friends"] very attractive. Money is going into syndication from early prime time. The audience is similar and its a more efficient day part," he says.

`ROSEANNE' QUANDARY

Also for sale are several returning off-network powerhouses, such as "The X-Files" and "NYPD Blue."

A headliner first-run show premiering this season is "The Roseanne Show" from King World Productions, but many advertisers are in a quandry about whether or not to advertise on a potentially controversial talk show.

"Talk shows in general are pretty strong this year," says Mr. Duncan. "A couple of years ago, we had a glut. This year, there are fewer shows, but they are stronger so their ratings in general are stronger."

RELUCTANT TO DISCUSS SPRINGER

Nonetheless, buyers are reluctant to reveal advertisers' plans to buy on shows such as "Roseanne" and Studios USA's "The Jerry Springer Show."

"Each of our clients makes their own decisions about their policies regarding program content, and we still have a number of clients concerned about supporting programming like Jerry Springer," says Mr. Doyle. "We'll be looking at `Springer' very cautiously."

Mr. Duncan says Mr. Springer makes no bones about being controversial, but "If you look at the ratings, Jerry has clearly tapped into something that is appealing to a substantial audience."

Mr. Flood says advertisers must consider whether or not the audience "Springer" delivers meets marketing objectives.

LOOKING FOR EYEBALLS

"If you have an advertiser who is just looking for eyeballs, then `Springer' makes sense," says Mr. Flood.

Another eye-catcher is King World's "Hollywood Squares," which will feature Whoopi Goldberg in the center square and as executive producer.

"We're happy that more programs are out there. We're very hopeful that `Friends' and `Holly-wood Squares' will succeed," says Mr. Doyle. "When these programs succeed, its good for us. There's certainly demand for syndicated programming that's cost effective. That will determine if we are in these new programs."

New court shows this season are "Judge Mills Lane" from Rysher Entertainment and "Judge Joe Brown" from Worldvision. "Forgive or Forget" from Twentieth Television and "Match Game" from Pearson All American are two new entries into the game show genre.

Still, Mr. Flood says, deals are coming along at a slow pace.

"Sellers are looking for deals in the medium-to-high range, but buyers want deals in the medium to low range," he says. "But I think the syndication vendors are getting nervous about letting deals lag too long."

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