Syndie up, kids down as upfront gets going

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It was a case of dueling TV advertising upfronts.

For the first time ever, the $2.7 billion syndication upfront market and the $800 million kids market broke the same week. In terms of bullish dealmaking, syndication stole the show.

Syndication TV upstaged the weaker kids advertising upfront with TV purveyors posting healthy 9% to 15% price increases for returning programming. Kids TV sellers reeled in significantly less than this--in many cases not keeping pace with last year's pricing.

Syndication sales companies Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, Paramount Advertiser Sales, Twentieth Television and King World Media Sales all moved quickly midweek in striking deals. Many syndicators are nearly sold out. Executives anticipate syndication could easily top $3 billion when upfront business is concluded.

"I expect the marketplace is going as strong as last year," said Allison Bodenmann, president of the Syndicated Network Television Association.

"It was a bit higher than expected," said one West Coast media executive concerning price increases. "We thought with package-goods companies down a bit with budgets and a higher number of top-tier syndication shows, the pricing wouldn't be as high."

Pharmaceuticals 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, said a media executive

Other top-tier shows garnered big numbers as well. "Frasier," "Friends," "Home Improvement" and "Seinfeld" also gained low double-digit price increases. Currently, those shows pull in an average $125,000 for a 30-second spot.

RERUNS ON PAR WITH FIRST-RUNS

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

The kids market is off to a slower start, with many sellers at the beginning stages of making deals. Starcom Worldwide, Chicago, and Mediacom, New York, which represent a combined 30% of kids advertising dollars, have completed all their deals at single-digit price decreases, according to industry executives.

Nickelodeon claims to have stolen the thunder of the marketplace some weeks ago. John Popkowski, exec VP-advertising at parent MTV Networks, said Nickelodeon has completed 98% of its intended advertising deals.

Some media executives were skeptical, considering that many other TV sellers are just starting. "I find it hard to believe they are 98% sold," said one West Coast media executive. "I guess I don't need to place any business with [Nickelodeon]," said another sarcastically.

Nickelodeon's strategy this year was to focus on expanding its roster of advertisers rather than increasing budgets from existing advertisers. "We are targeting a number of categories, such as tourism, financial services and automotives," said Mr. Popkowski.

Nickelodeon added 49 new clients in recent weeks, he said, including previously announced major deals with Ford Motor Co. and computer retailer Gateway. Nickelodeon also signed the San Diego Convention &|Visitors Bureau.

Many executives said Nickelodeon witnessed no price increases so far, but Mr. Popkowski would not comment. Nickelodeon controls about $300 million in kids advertising, according to executives.

NICKELODEON LOSES TO KIDS WB

Kids WB has seen big 40% ratings growth this season and was rewarded with total ad coffers 40% higher than last year. Much of it came from shifting dollars from Nickelodeon, said a buyer.

"We are pretty far along," said Jed Petrick, head of advertising sales for the WB. "We got some tight inventory. I'm pleased that budgets are higher than we thought."

The Cartoon Network sold some inventory as well last week. One spokesman would say only, "We are getting our fair share." Cartoon Network has seen a 26% hike in ratings. Like Kids WB, Cartoon Network was looking at inking slight 2% to 3% price increases on returning programming.

Other kids sellers--ABC, CBS, and Fox--were trying to keep pricing stable, but may have a hard time doing so.

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