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Syndication Special Report: Placing Added Emphasis on Shows' Timing

Powerhouses Remain 'Friends,' Ray Romano, 'Seinfeld' and 'Oprah'

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- "Evolve and prosper" is the theme of this year's National Association of Television Programming Executives convention kicking off today. The conference and the syndication industry have been doing their best to do both.
Syndicated airings of 'Friends' remains popular with advertisers.
Syndicated airings of 'Friends' remains popular with advertisers.

Commercial ratings
Whether syndication can grab a bigger piece of the pie in the 2007 upfront will largely depend on how the great commercial-ratings debate shakes out. Syndicators have one big gun in their arsenal: People generally watch syndicated shows live instead of recording them to watch later. That's a big sell to advertisers that want their spots watched when they're planned. The Nielsen Media Research TiVo panel shows that 80% of syndicated shows are watched live, says Mitch Burg, president of the Syndicated Network Television Association.

But the bad news for syndicators also comes on the measurement front. Nielsen, which is working through many kinks in its commercial-ratings methodology and data crunching, won't get to the syndication segment until much later than broadcast and cable. That delay could mean advertisers won't have enough time to assess average commercial ratings for all parts of the TV business in time for the May upfront commitments.

6% surge in ad spending
Robert J. Coen, senior VP-director of forecasting at Universal McCann, New York, predicts a 6% surge in ad spending on syndicated shows in 2007 for a total of $4.3 billion, as U.S. ad spending overall grows 4.8% to almost $300 billion.

That's the picture on how syndication might "prosper" this year -- now the plan to "evolve."

While NATPE itself has long been the annual stomping ground of station groups and the big media conglomerates' program-distribution arms, it's evolving to include a whole host of smaller players in the online video and mobile fields. Those executives will be in full force at this year's NATPE event in Las Vegas, hoping to find distribution contracts in off-TV platforms.

"The basis for NATPE and its success was essentially as a domestic TV syndication show. That's changed considerably because the business has changed -- it's a global digital distribution show. ... For a period of 15-20 years things didn't change all that much. Now we have to reinvent ourselves every year, and these companies need to reinvent every year," says Rick Feldman, NATPE president-CEO. "From an advertiser's perspective, it's all about how they're going to spend their money and what's the value of a 30[-second] spot and how they get rated and the effectiveness."

Beyond the conversations about "Oprah" and "Raymond," syndication executives are starting to embrace the digital universe more fully. One NATPE panel, convened by PricewaterhouseCoopers, will look at whether user-generated content will ever gain mainstream backing from advertisers. The panel features Jordan Hoffner, Google's head of news and premium-content partnerships.

Recon mission
Media agencies and their clients use the NATPE conference as a reconnaissance mission of sorts, figuring out what's coming down the pike for 2008 and even 2009. Among those shows rumored to nearing syndie liftoff is a new strip based on the Time Warner-backed celebrity website TMZ.com. Sony Pictures Television has cleared more than half the country with a new court show called "Judge David Young." Other shows that may hit syndication include "Family Guy" from Twentieth Television and NBC Universal's "The Office."

"For some clients the pop-culture aspect is key, so we like the entertainment-news programs," says Steve Kalb, director of media at Mullen, Wenham, Mass. Mr. Kalb, who counts Match.com and Orbitz among his clients, says shows like "Sex and the City" and "Friends" (both from Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution) are also popular, "but the challenge this year is that some of the [syndicated] shows were down double digits [in percentages in their ratings], which is startling. The other challenge is there's not a whole lot [new] in the pipeline."
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