Costly 'Friends'

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Syndication played a strong part in the updraft of 200o's wild upfront TV market, with some of the most popular syndicated programs pulling in up to 15% increases in their costs per thousand. The spending spree on so-called top-tier shows again lands Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution's "Friends" atop the list in Advertising Age's annual survey of syndicated TV pricing.

For the 10 shows that buyers informally consider the top tier, CPMs climbed 10% to 15% in the $2.5 billion syndication upfront market. Lesser fare pulled in gains as low as 2%.


Columbia TriStar Advertiser Sales' "Seinfeld" again follows "Friends" on the Ad Age listing of estimated cost per 30-second slot, with Paramount Advertiser Services' "Frasier" replacing Warner's faltering syndicated "The Drew Carey Show" in third.

"Friends" topped $150,000 per :30 to be the highest-priced Monday through Friday show in syndication. "Seinfeld" also passed $100,000; the "Seinfeld" figure is based on a five-day-a-week run, for purposes of comparison with other programming in the Ad Age survey. Columbia TriStar, however, sells "Seinfeld" predominantly as a six-day-a-week strip, which raises the average for a :30 to $174,600.

" `Seinfeld,' `Friends' and `Frasier' have held up pretty well," says Ray Dundas, exec VP-national broadcast for Havas Advertising's Media Planning Group, New York. "But there was a correction with `The Drew Carey Show.' " Syndication ratings for Mr. Carey's show sank last season; its unit price followed, down 24.6% to about $89,000 in the survey.

Hit network shows, especially sitcoms like these that go into syndication with their reruns, have proven track records that attract advertisers, and that fetches higher prices. The shows can lift the entire syndication market, as production companies bundle off-net shows with first-run syndication programs.

For the 2001-02 season, there seems to be a slimmer supply of off-network hits, which could dampen the syndication ad market overall.


"There are no blockbusters coming-no `Seinfeld,' no `Friends,' " notes Aaron Cohen, senior VP-national broadcast for Horizon Media, New York.

But if off-net quality for next season is suspect, quantity is not.

More off-network shows will be on the air next year than ever before, says Allison Bodenmann, executive director of the Syndicated Network Television Association.

"There are more off-network shows in syndication," she says. "Are they all going to drive high prices? No. But they are still generally higher-priced [and better rated] than first run" syndication shows.

Among network shows entering syndication next season are King World Media Sales' "Everyone Loves Raymond," 20th Television's "King of the Hill" and Columbia TriStar's "Just Shoot Me."

Pricing for the 2000-01 season's new crop of off-net sitcoms was typical of recent years. Paramount's "Spin City" grabbed just over $87,000 per :30, while Warner Bros.' "Suddenly Susan" and Paramount's "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" landed in the $30,000-plus range.


On the first-run side of syndication, Paramount's "Entertainment Tonight" continued to lead the way and was fourth overall in the survey.

Agency executives say syndicators are doing a better job predicting ratings for their TV shows, according to Mr. Dundas. This is good news for both sides. Syndicators usually have limited inventory to sell, and if their ratings projections are lower than expected, they need to give back cash to advertisers. And for agencies, it's too late to make other short-term media plans.

Now that syndicators are becoming more accurate in their projections, they hope advertisers will send them more business.

"We have programs that do better than 70% of prime-time network," Ms. Bodenmann says. "Wouldn't you rather be in `Friends' at 7:30 p.m. than some low-rated network show at 8 p.m. or 8:30 p.m.?"

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