Syndie builds on solid base

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Sellers for the $2.7 billion syndication upfront market have lots to smile about this year.

Audience ratings are up and ad deals are bigger than ever, due in part to the success of off-network shows.

TV syndicators are clearly happy. For one, they are posting healthy 9% to 15% price increases for returning programming. Also, syndication audiences have finally surpassed those of the Big 3 TV networks for the first time and grew 3% in the first half of the 1999-00 season, according to a report from Boston Media Consultants.

Off-network shows continue to drive advertisers toward the syndication market, says Bob Cesa, exec VP-advertising and cable sales at Twentieth Television.


Top-tier off-network shows "Frasier," "Friends," "Home Improvement" and "Seinfeld" gained low double-digit price increases. Currently, those shows pull in an average $120,000 for a 30-second spot.

"There is a shift where the top-tier syndication shows have been very constant with their network broadcasts," says Doug Seay, senior VP-national broadcast for Publicis & Hal Riney, New York. He contends adult 18-to-49-year-old ratings for reruns of network sitcoms in syndication are on par with network broadcasts.

This fall, Twentieth will unveil off-network runs of "The Pretender" and "King of the Hill." "King" joins Paramount's "Spin City" as the highest-rated sitcoms to enter syndication this fall.

Still, less-than-stellar performances from this season's rookies, "The Drew Carey Show," "3rd Rock From the Sun" and "Caroline in the City," may have soured advertisers toward the off-network game, despite the continued success of staple reruns of "Friends," "Seinfeld," "The X-Files" and "Frasier."

Fresh money will likely come in this year from automotive and credit card companies as traditional advertisers search for new venues for advertising, says Allison Bodenmann, president of the Syndicated Network Television Association.


Although dot-com advertising has increased more than 300% over the past season, the big Internet companies are still turning to network TV as their primary outlet.

"You've seen the dot-coms continuing to buy sports, news and specialty-type programs," says Mr. Cesa, "but as cable and broadcast networks fill up, that forces the traditional advertiser to find alternatives. We definitely benefit from that."

Pharmaceutical marketers also fueled the syndication market, buying many daytime talk shows and the usual early evening game shows, "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!" These shows were inking deals at 12% to 15% above last year's average $90,000 per spot, says one media executive.

Meanwhile, the still-hot court show genre continues to thrive in daytime as "Judge Judy" holds court and newcomer "Divorce Court" became the top first-run series this season.

In addition, no less than five new court shows are on the horizon, led by Twentieth's "Power of Attorney," Warner Bros.' "Moral Court" and King World's "Curtis Court."


"Although there's no overwhelming buzz for anything right now in syndication, court shows are at the top of the docket," says Tim Duncan, president of Boston Media Consultants. " `Judge Judy,' `Judge Joe Brown' and `Divorce Court' have established themselves at the top of genre without eroding the other court shows."

He adds that "daytime [TV] is getting crowded" and points out that 26 daytime syndicated shows are currently on the air, up from 18 last year.

Clearly, the biggest shakeout comes from the talk-show genre, where a string of would-be hits, led by Paramount Television's "Leeza," Buena Vista Television's "The Ainsley Harriott Show" and the King World/Eyemark duo of "The Martin Short Show" and "Dr. Joy Browne" failed to find audiences. Telepictures Distribution's "Queen Latifah" is the only freshman show to set a place for next season.

Potential upcomers with some buzz for the fall include Columbia TriStar Television's "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus," which cleared on all the NBC-owned stations.

Meanwhile, coming on with early clearances is Paramount's controversial "Dr. Laura Schlessinger," which analysts say could spark enough controversy to score instant ratings in the fall. Also there's King World's weekly "Cindy Margolis Show," which could find its own niche in late night.


"Cindy Margolis" "is one show that could make a lot of noise out there," says Mark Itkin, senior VP at talent representative William Morris Agency. "There hasn't been anything out there that's groundbreaking in late night for a long time. It's clearly geared to bring in both male and female viewers with a strong pop appeal."

Success for the majority of syndicated shows will naturally depend on time slots as syndicators push, pry and prod for key positions.

"In general, it appears that the dynamism in daytime is with syndication," says Mr. Duncan. "There is a constant turnover in programming -- new faces, new genres -- that contrasts with the relatively slower pace of change in network, where the soaps are in a long-term decline

. . . It enables syndication, with its many inevitable failures each year, to constantly come up with new ideas to attract [both the] audience and advertisers."M

Contributing: Sheree R. Curry

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