On one hand, syndicators sold an estimated $200 million of ad time in the recent daytime syndication upfront ad market, with sellers getting significant, double-digit rate increases. And popular, well-established programs like "Baywatch" continue to rake in high ratings and the accompanying ad dollars.
On the other hand, there's increasing pressure on new syndicated launches to get clearances and deliver audiences right away.
Rookie dramas "Space Precinct," "Hawkeye" and "Sirens," the third-highest rated new series of last season, were canceled, and there's no reason to believe the carnage won't continue.
"I don't think people really give new shows a chance," says Alison Bodenmann, senior VP-director of broadcast buying for Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor, New York.
A poor-performing show "is off by January if it is not doing well or definitely moved to a crummier time slot .*.*. unless a station manager is madly in love with it," she adds. "Ten years ago, they didn't do that."
Part of this is due to new networks WB and UPN occupying time slots on independent stations and reducing the space available for syndicated shows.
"We haven't felt the squeeze yet, but if we were going into [prime-time] with a strip, we certainly would," says George Back, president of All American Distribution.
That squeeze is particularly affecting smaller players, observers say.
"Smaller distributors are having trouble getting their shows cleared," says Lisa Donohue, VP-assistant media director at Leo Burnett USA, Chicago. "A lot depends on clout. .*.*. The bigger muscle you have, the easier it will be to get things cleared."
While WB and UPN "do absorb a fair number of time periods," they've had the "greatest impact on people who offer syndicated movie packages," says Steve Grubbs, senior VP-national broadcast buying for BBDO Worldwide, New York.
Mr. Grubbs says his agency makes buying decisions based on three things: programming and the target audience it reaches; distribution; and the price structure.
For syndicators eager for a piece of BBDO's action, "the biggest issue will be the diminishment of time periods open to them. It becomes more difficult to clear a show [and], without the right clearances, a show has no chance of success."
For gatekeepers like Neal Sabin, VP-general manager of independent WCIU-TV in Chicago, the increased supply and decreased demand for syndicated programming lets his station cherry-pick shows more than newly independent stations might once have been able to do (until January, WCIU had been an affiliate of Spanish-language network Univision).
"For the best shows, we still have to get in a fight over clearances," he says, but "one of the things we are able to do is to offer multiple runs or better time periods" than WB- or UPN-affiliated stations.
"Not every barter program that we were offered did we clear," Mr. Sabin says."We have passed on some things that wouldn't help us."
Unlike station managers, agency media buyers, looking to amass gross rating points for their clients, don't have the luxury of being highly selective.
Ms. Bodenmann points out the two new networks had the good fortune of starting during a strong ad market.
"People who would not have given them the prices they wanted even a year ago," she says, are paying the rates even though "their ratings delivery isn't any stronger than daytime........
"At a 2 rating, it isn't going to keep me from buying other programming. If they don't improve soon, the [affiliated] stations will not be too happy," Ms. Bodenmann adds.
To increase their leverage with stations and bring more stability to the medium, Mr. Sabin has a few words of advice for syndicators: "It would really help if everybody didn't play catch-up and copycat. We are creative and innovative people [in the industry], and we should be coming up with more creative and innovative solutions than just more talk shows.
"I wish some of the energy would be put into what the next franchise is going to be."