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A robust upfront market for syndication TV broke last week, as buyers and sellers both pegged cost-per-thousand increases as averaging at least 10% for the top first-run and off-network programs.

The market was expected to top $2 billion, up from about $1.8 billion last year.

The market opened when MCI Communications Corp.-through SFM Media Corp., New York-let it be known it had a lot of money to spend in syndication. Sellers estimate MCI spent $75 million to $80 million in the syndication upfront, close to double the amount it spent last year. SFM declined comment.

"Sellers were asking mid-double-digit CPM increases for the hottest off-net shows," said one major agency buyer, citing such programs as "Seinfeld" and "Home Improvement" and first-run talk shows "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and "The Rosie O'Donnell Show."

Some of the new programs, such as the "Donny & Marie" talk show from Columbia TriStar Television Distribution, and "Friends" from Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, were also hot.


"Packaging was the name of the game," said another buyer. "For example, if you want a good deal on `Oprah,' [distributor] King World wanted you to take `Roseanne' and `Hollywood Squares' as well. That kind of thing."

Some buyers were not happy with the change in rules on "Seinfeld" buys this year. Explained one agency media manager: "Last year, if I bought 12 spots [over two weeks], they'd run one each, Monday through Saturday, so I'd get 10 Monday through Friday and two on Saturday. This year, if I bought 12 spots, I was forced to split them up so I'd get six Monday through Friday and six on Saturday."

Calls to Chris Kager, Columbia TriStar's VP-advertising sales and marketing, were returned last week by a spokesman who said Mr. Kager was not talking to reporters.

Some buyers and sellers said they thought the increased use of optimizer computer programs helped enliven the marketplace.

Separately, USA Network and Starcom Media Services, a division of Leo Burnett Co., Chicago, denied a story in Advertising Age's May 11 issue about an upfront cable deal. Citing media executives, the story reported USA and Starcom agreeing to a $25 million to $35 million deal at CPM increases of 4% to 5%.

John Silvestri, USA exec VP-advertising, did not return phone calls for the original story, but issued a statement earlier last week saying the budget and cost increases reported were wrong.

He said the cable company is "in negotiations with Starcom and other buyers in the marketplace," but that no deal had been cut.

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