Agency media buyers said 15% of the inventory already has been inked with buys from MacManus Group's MediaVest and Leo Burnett Co.'s Starcom USA -- two traditional early buyers of syndication -- as well as GM Mediaworks.
King World Media Sales, Paramount Advertiser Sales, Columbia TriStar and Pearson Television have made deals, executives said.
PREDICTED $2.2 BILLION
Media executives predicted that syndication could climb 10%, to more than $2.2 billion in the upfront selling period. For the current broadcast year, the Syndicated Network Television Association estimated sales at $2 billion.
"All indications are that it is going to be a big one," said Liz Koman, senior VP-advertising sales for Tribune Entertainment.
Sellers have been salivating over a strong upfront marketplace, especially in the wake of strong scatter boosts of 20% to 30% higher than last year's upfront.
But buyers aren't nervous, saying that while the market is good, it won't be as strong as predicted.
"It's not as hot as the syndicators would lead you to believe," said Rino Scanzoni, exec VP-director national broadcast at Media-Vest. "The market is moving at a stable pace."
MAY LIKELY FOR END OF UPFRONT
Executives believe the entire syndication upfront will be completed by mid-May, just before the broadcast networks make their fall programming presentations.
Syndicators are hoping new money from pharmaceutical marketers, Internet companies and import car marketers will help fuel the business. They would like to gain high prices as many sellers have existing multiyear deals.
"New companies will be placing money where they haven't before," said Marc Solomon, exec VP-media for Rysher Entertainment. "They'll pay the high prices and knock out the low prices. We are not going to sell them cheap [costs per thousand]. It's called supply and demand."
Media buyers believe that for top-rated off-network sitcoms, such as "Friends," "Seinfeld" or "Frazier," syndicators could command CPM increases as high as 15% from new advertisers or top-paying categories such as movie studios.
One media buyer said some syndicators are offering initial "scare" pricing -- price structures for advertisers that want to cherry-pick a syndicators' roster of shows, which naturally pushes up pricing.
This buyer, for instance, said the high-demand "Friends" has been priced at a whopping $204,000 for a 30-second spot by Warner Bros. Columbia TriStar is looking for $215,000 for "Seinfeld," while Buena Vista has thrown out a $189,000 figure for "Home Improvement."
New shows in syndication are looking at big numbers as well. Warner Bros. is offering "The Drew Carey Show" at a top-drawer $160,000, according to one media buyer.
Top first-run fare, such as Rysher's "Entertainment Tonight" and some of the court shows, are hoping to see some significant increases.