Perhaps doubling or tripling its total ad dollars with an addition of $200 million to $300 million would lift syndication's 1999-2000 broadcast year billings to $2.3 billion. Last year, according to industry estimates, syndication added $100 million to its coffers.
Early returns have syndication gaining 8% to 12% price increases for top shows; high single-digit increases for its more modestly performing programs.
But media buyers are not happy, with some executives remarking that syndication doesn't deserve these financial rewards. Ratings estimates are too high; the average show doesn't deliver nearly what it says it should.
"Syndication has been a dismal failure," says Bob Igiel, exec VP-U.S. director of national broadcast and programming for Media Edge, New York. "Selling inflated ratings is unacceptable."
For a number of years, this has been a major problem with syndication -- selling high estimated ratings for shows only to fall far short of their goals.
"We have been screaming about this for a long time," says Gary Carr, senior VP-group associate director of national broadcast and programming for Western Initiative Media, Los Angeles. For instance, syndication shows regularly underdeliver in ratings by 25% to 30%, as opposed to network and cable shows, which are only 10% to 15% off the mark, he says.
"Syndicators have heard that message loud and clear," concedes Allison Bodenmann, executive director of Syndicated Network Television Association, who is making this a key issue. "They should be more favorable and reasonable."
The ratings-estimate problem is a function of timing.
"When the markets move the lineups aren't in existence," she says. "It's not the agencies fault, and it's not syndication's fault. The lineups don't get established until August."
While syndicators admit this is a problem, they point to some good news for advertisers in recent years. A number of recent surprise hits -- especially from the court show genre -- have given media buyers significant overdelivery of ratings.
For instance, last year during the upfront when "Judge Judy" was doing mid-4 ratings, its distributor Worldvision Enterprises made deals guaranteeing around an 8 rating. This year, the distributor says the show is regularly posting a 10.
Another issue for media buyers to consider this upfront is the trend towards consolidation among the syndication advertising sellers. With Viacom's purchase of Rysher Entertainment's assets and the remaining stock of Spelling Entertainment (the parent of Worldvision), Viacom's syndication ad sales unit -- Paramount Advertiser Sales -- will be a much stronger player next year.
CHANGES AFTER KING SALE
Additionally, the sale of King World to CBS has a number of industry analysts speculating that CBS' Eyemark Enterprises, its syndication division, will fold into King World's respective advertising and station sales syndication divisions -- this to save operational costs, as well as improve leverage in the marketplace.
CBS has denied this will happen, at least in the short term.
With all this activity, syndication agency buyers say they might do well to ink some multiyear deals during this upfront -- before the strong get stronger next year.
The results of last year's syndication upfront are having an effect on this year's selling period. Syndication managed to outflank media buyers in relation to the broadcast network marketplace last year, when it pulled in higher price increases than the average network show.
This was unusual because syndication pricing, almost always, moves in a parallel way with network prices. Syndication pulled in $100 million in new money, versus flat year-to-year ad dollars at the network level.
MCI LED RUSH
"Syndication benefited last year when the marketplace got stampeded," says Ron Fredrick, senior partner and director of national broadcast at J. Walter Thompson USA, New York. "Obviously, they want another repeat performance -- but there is resistance this year."
The rush was pushed by MCI WorldCom, which came in early and spent freely in syndication. In anticipation of an overall hot TV marketplace, buyers bought up syndication time at what they thought were modest increases. But when network upfront got going weeks later, the market cooled considerably.
Some media buyers think syndication pulled a fast one. But not Ms. Bodenmann, who claims, there are "some [costs-per-thousand] in syndication which are half that of similarly performing network shows."
This year syndicators -- as well as cable networks and broadcasters -- are betting on new categories to increase their TV advertising coffers. Pharmaceutical companies, foreign automobiles and Internet companies are categories syndication ad sellers believe will spend in record amounts this upfront.
Highly rated court shows -- "Judge Judy," "Judge Joe Brown," and "Judge Mills Lane" -- will be looking to grab a piece of this new money, as well as hiking existing clients with price increases.
New off-network shows also will be searching for new and existing syndication money -- "The Drew Carey Show," "3rd Rock from the Sun" and "Caroline in the City."
Typically, off-network shows muster significantly higher [CPM] than first-run shows because of their proven track record.
Syndicators hope lackluster categories will spend more aggressively this year. Soft drink marketers such as Pepsi-Cola Co. and Coca-Cola Co. -- which spend little in syndication -- will be wooed.
"Their target audience is 12-34," says Ms. Bodenmann. "What better way of