Syndie to feel trickle-down effect

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For advertisers there doesn't appear to be that one must-have show in syndication.

"Oprah is great, but she isn't breaking new [ad] categories. The lifeblood of any market is new categories," says Jason Kanefsky, VP-account director at Havas' Media Planning Group, New York. There's also not a single ad category champing at the bit to suck up inventory anywhere.

Another potential problem as syndication goes into the upfront is that demand for inventory last year wasn't great enough to justify the increases syndicators sought. "If they try to do that two years in a row, they will have the same lack of success," says Elizabeth Herbst-Brady, senior VP-director of broadcast investment at Publicis Groupe's Starcom USA, Chicago.

Now add in that broadcasters and cable networks will tee up first. Overall, the upfront is expected to be a bit more measured for all segments than the frenzied pace of 2003. Two years of soft scatter markets have caused a number of advertisers to rethink the upfront, says John Rash, senior VP-broadcast negotiations at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis.

"Lots of clients are not happy about the rush to spend," he says. "[Syndication] is going to be a reflection of the marketplace. It remains to be seen how strong the marketplace is."

Mr. Rash isn't the only buyer subscribing to the trickle-down theory when it comes to syndication. They're expressing a more circumspect approach to the upfront in general this year and to syndication in particular. Most buyers believe syndication can't garner more than low single-digit increases in total dollars or costs per thousand because of widespread ad uncertainties, like questions about the auto category, and because there are few juggernaut shows.

BROADCAST EFFECT

Mr. Kanefsky expects dollars to be flat this year for syndication. Last year, syndication took in about $2.5 billion in the upfront. And agencies don't expect broadcast will be hard to buy this year, so they aren't developing plans to use syndication as a prime-time replacement.

Still, the overall consistency of syndication is its biggest benefit, says Mitch Burg, president of the Syndicated Network Television Association. In fact, the reason only a few new shows are entering the market this year-the projects from Martha Stewart (NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution) and Tyra Banks (Warner Bros.' Telepictures Productions), new court show "Judge Alex" (News Corp.'s Twentieth Television), and a few off-network programs-is that the existing programs are performing well. They're holding onto their time slots, he says.

Syndication as a whole is coming off a strong 2004, which saw a 16% revenue increase for the year, finishing at $3.9 billion, according to TNS Media Intelligence, Mr. Burg says. That was the largest increase of any segment of TV, he says.

Several King World Productions shows, in particular, have seen ratings increases, says Bill Carroll, VP-programming for Katz Television Group, New York. That includes "Jeopardy!" fueled by the momentum of record-setting player Ken Jennings.

According to Nielsen Media Research data provided by King World, "Jeopardy!" is up 8% in ratings for the season to date with a household average of 7.9.

Chris Kager, exec VP-media sales at NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution, touts syndication as a means to fight ad clutter. The syndication environment is less cluttered because the commercial breaks are shorter, he says, adding, "If people are talking about fragmentation, shifting of audience, then what better way to present your message than this environment?"

But where's the buzz? While certain shows like "The Oprah Winfrey Show" or "Dr. Phil," both from Viacom's King World, command a premium, most syndicated content these days is easy come, easy go, Mr. Kanefsky says.

beyond curiosity factor

Some new projects are generating interest. "The Tyra Banks Show" will appeal largely to the 18-34 crowd, while Martha Stewart's demographics will skew older. The challenge Ms. Banks faces is that her show might not be as broad-based as other talkers, while Ms. Stewart will need to move beyond the curiosity factor, says Campbell Mithun's Mr. Rash.

Ms. Banks already has met with a dozen or so advertisers, says Michael Teicher, exec VP-media sales at Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. "We think this will attract some of your younger demos," he says. "But we also believe we will see unusual categories in daytime, like automotive [and] technology."

If "sexiness is defined 100% of the time as something that's new," he says, "that can be dangerous because we've seen time and again something that appears to be a breakout hit, [but] by year two or three is no longer on TV. I don't think syndication needs to apologize for having shows that stand the test of time."

In fact, strength in syndication is not what's new, says Ms. Herbst-Brady. "It's the enduring value of what has been there."

Watch it

While syndication buyers believe dollars will be flat after bumps of last year, syndicators argue the consistency of offerings is a crucial benefit

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