TV'S UPFRONT: HOT ORIGINAL, OFF-NET SHOWS MEAN 10%-PLUS CPM HIKES: SYNDICATION OUTLOOK: ERODING NETWORK REACH AND STRONG ECONOMY ALSO FUEL HOPES FOR ACTIVE SEASON

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Sales in syndication are expected to increase this year because of a strong economy and eroding network reach.

Syndication's upfront sales for the 1995-'96 season slowed considerably from its banner 1994-'95 season, when prices were 20% to 40% higher than usual. But a strong upfront season with a 10%-to-20% increase in CPMs is expected by most media buyers and sellers.

"Budgets are definitely up," says Bob Cesa, exec VP-advertising sales for Twentieth Television. "Another main issue people are coming to grips with is network erosion of prime time, and they are looking at syndication as one of the ways to make up for the loss of audience.

"There are more quality programs in syndication than ever before. We have a lot of advertisers that traditionally bought only network prime time in the past that are looking at syndication," Mr. Cesa says.

The automotive, fast-food, movie, over-the-counter drugs, technology and communications industries should be among some of the big buyers in the upfront season this year.

"We're finding that the budgets people are talking about are up," says Dan Cosgrove, president of Eyemark Media Sales. "With the overall fractionalization, advertisers have to buy more spots to get the same number of [gross rating points]. People want to get in, pay some decent increases, and get out because its going to be a strong market."

"We have a sense that there is a great deal of money at play," says Tim Duncan, executive director of Advertiser Syndicated Television Association. "Our members say there is going to be some pretty strong activity and it will be pretty soon."

LIMITED INVENTORY

Mr. Duncan says sellers are holding out to to make deals closer to network TV's upfront season because they will be able to get better deals. But since there is limited inventory, "advertisers will not be slow in laying their money down," he says.

In fact, TeleVest, New York, Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, and Botway Group, New York, are said to have closed deals.

Some in the industry, though, are more reserved about this year's upfront season.

"This year is less of a seller's market than it has been. I think cable has made some great inroads," says Bill Cella, exec VP-broadcast and programming for McCannErickson Worldwide, New York.

"The stock market fluctuating erratically the last two months makes one wonder how the upfront will go," Mr. Cella says. "Advertisers pay attention to the economy."

Although network TV generally offers advertisers the greatest reach, more are looking for ways to supplement their network plans as the total viewership continues to divide.

"Advertisers looking for reach and wanting to supplement their plans should go to syndication first," Mr. Duncan says. "An advertiser can't substitute cable for network and make their reach goals, but we can make that claim."

However, the children's syndication programming sales season earlier this year, estimated at between $600 million and $700 million, was down overall from past years. Cable significantly dented the market with the continued growth of Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.

ANTICIPATED SHOWS

Some of the most anticipated shows selling this upfront season are the off-network runs of "The X-Files" from Twentieth Television and "Frasier" from Paramount Domestic Television, both marketed for early prime; "Gene Roddenberry's Battleground Earth" in weekend prime action from Tribune Entertainment; "101 Dalmatians" in children's slots from Buena Vista Television; "Vibe" in late fringe from Columbia/TriStar; and "NYPD Blue" in late fringe from Twentieth.

"`The X-Files' is being very well received by advertisers," says Mr. Cesa. "It has a great dual audience of both men and women. It's extremely well written and has lots of twists and turns."

Mr. Cella expects "The X-Files" to sell well because advertisers are anticipating support from viewers who missed the earliest seasons.

However, Mr. Cella disagrees.

"There are certain advertisers who, because of content alone, will shy away from it," he says.

In any case, despite the potential price increases, observers expect this year's syndication upfront to be relatively relaxed.

"The last two years were fairly rushed. I think it will be more controlled this year," Mr. Cella says.

"Upfront usually means late nights and pizza," Mr. Duncan says. "This year it looks like it's going to come early enough to give people a good summer vacation."

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