Syndies opting out of upfront?

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Faced with drastic 15% to 30% price decreases, syndication TV companies are considering a bold move: holding off from selling commercial advertising time in the upfront marketplace, according to executives.

A veteran media buying executive said at least two syndicators have indicated pricing is so unfavorable for syndicators that some may opt out of selling some or all of their upfront inventory and take their chances in the scatter market where time is bought quarter by quarter.

Wary of an expected significant price drop, some syndicators are said to also be contemplating canceling mediocre-rated shows.

While the names of the specific syndicators could not be learned, one media buying executive said Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution in particular has indicated unhappiness with the market and is moving slowly. AOL Time Warner's Warner Bros. did not return calls by press time.


The media buying executive added that passing on the upfront is dicey because syndicated shows continue to struggle with ratings and an economic upturn in time for the scatter market is unlikely. "Not a real smart move," said the executive. "I would take the money and run."

Recently, the broadcast network upfront buying season wrapped up with the Big 4 networks posting anywhere from 2% to 9% decreases on cost-per-thousands prices, or CPMs. Syndication and cable networks are now facing much steeper odds as they prepare to deal with advertisers who have cut back substantially in their overall upfront buys. So far, the broadcast network upfront has plunged 14% from a year ago to $6.8 billion from $7.8 billion the year before.


"[At these prices] a lot of people could be saying, `Why am I doing this upfront?"' said Bob Cesa, exec VP-advertising and cable sales for News Corp.'s Twentieth Television. Mr. Cesa, however, said he is not considering forgoing an upfront and has done some deals. He expects the syndication marketplace to begin in earnest this week.

A veteran syndication executive has been amazed at the decreases advertisers are asking for-in some cases a 20% drop for top-tier rated shows such as Warner Bros.' "Friends" and Viacom's King World Productions' "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and 30% or more for lesser-performing programs. King World couldn't be reached at press time.

The media buying executive said that some syndicators "have moved into panic [mode]" and are aggressively moving to make deals to get some money on the books, even if it means agreeing to the reduced rates. Less desirable programming like Paramount Advertiser Services' "Spin City," which was sold at a high price and then posted lackluster ratings, could fall well below the 15% mark. Some first-time syndicated shows, such as King World's "Everybody Loves Raymond" could also suffer.

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