Upfront 07

Could Springer's Steve Wilkos Be This Year's Rachael Ray?

With Prospects Such as 'TMZ' but No Surefire Hits, Sellers Will Tout Percentage of Live Audience, Shorter Ad Breaks

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Syndication, like the rest of the TV world, is turning to the internet this upfront season. But instead of TV content migrating online, a hot website is inspiring a new syndicated show.
Ray Dundas

Ray Dundas, senior VP-group account director at Initiative, New York, laments the lack of a 'Rachael Ray' to boost sales in this year's upfront.

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The most anticipated new show in syndication this year is an entertainment newsmagazine that will try to transplant the cachet of gossipy celebrity website TMZ.com. "TMZ," from Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, also could be a proving ground for new digital concepts in syndication, especially since syndicators in general have been digital laggards.

TMZ stands for the 30-mile zone around Los Angeles, and the website has become known for breaking celebrity news, the latest bombshell being Alec Baldwin's voicemail rant at his 11-year-old daughter.

Integration opportunities
Warner Bros. says the new show will include video segments, breaking celebrity news and regular features on entertainment topics. Stations carrying the show can access a "TMZ-branded module" that lets them integrate round-the-clock feeds from the show and TMZ.com into their own websites.

Advertisers are responding to the integration opportunities on-air and online, says Michael Teicher, exec VP-media sales at Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution.

"TMZ" is the most noteworthy of a crop of new programs that include yet another court show in Sony Pictures Television's "Judge David Young" and a new talk show hosted by a Jerry Springer security guard.

However, there "is certainly not a new program of the quality of a 'Rachael Ray,' [and that's] a little disappointing," says Ray Dundas, senior VP-group account director at Initiative, New York.

No 'Ray' of light
Without additional digital extensions to excite advertisers -- a serious deficiency in a new-media-centric world -- and without the kind of buzz that accompanied last year's arrival of King World Productions' "Rachael Ray," upfront sales in syndication are likely to be flat at best.

Steve Wilkos might stir up a bit of excitement. NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution tapped the former-Chicago-police-officer-turned-"Jerry Springer Show"-security-guard for his own talk show, "The Steve Wilkos Show."

NBCU also should get attention as it launches "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" in syndication. "CI" is the first off-network procedural drama to become available in five-day-a-week syndication in more than 14 years and has been cleared in more than 95% of the country, says Bo Argentino, senior VP-advertising and media sales at NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution. She adds: "It's the first time in a long time someone has an hourlong off-network show."

A show that can spark the kind of buzz "Rachael Ray" generated last year can have a halo effect on the market as a whole. With no such glow expected this upfront year, syndicators will fall back on the consistency and reliability their programming affords advertisers.

Oprah-like personalities
They will note the shorter commercial breaks, leading to less clutter and better ad retention. Syndicators also tout the strong, consistent personalities in their shows as a defense against digital video recorders. The best example of this may be Oprah Winfrey.

Popular prime-time broadcast shows such as "Lost," "The Office" and "24" are watched on DVRs by about 10% to 12% of their viewers. Meanwhile, King World's "Oprah Winfrey Show" -- one of the enduring hits of syndication -- is only time-shifted by about 3% of her audience, says Brad Adgate, senior VP-research at Horizon Media, New York.

"These types of shows are less likely to be DVRed," says Chris Boothe, president-chief activation officer at Starcom USA, Chicago. "They have smaller national pods too, so that's a strong story for them."

"[Syndication] is still a viable option for advertisers that are looking for a specific environment on general reach points," says Ed Gentner, senior VP-group director at MediaVest USA, New York.

Seeking more digital links
Syndicators aren't moving as fast as their counterparts in incorporating digital extensions, but studios say they're looking to correct that.

NBCU plans to build integration opportunities into its properties that align with its overall "TV 360" philosophy. Digital outlets could include podcasting, interactive gaming, extended clips, virtual ballots and exclusive online footage for shows such as "Access Hollywood."

Sony is taking a different tack. Rather than create digital extensions for all its properties, it's focusing on following the audience. Sony Pictures Television sells ads across video-sharing site grouper.com, music site Music Box from Sony BMG and the web channel Funnybone on AOL Video that includes syndicated comedies such as "Just Shoot Me."

"If an advertiser wants male 18-to-34, we can offer 'Seinfield,' and then they can download videos on Music Box and then Funnybone. It's following a demo, not necessarily following a show," says Amy Carney, exec VP-ad sales at Sony Pictures Television.

"It's not a razzle-dazzle year, but with retention and commercial breaks and [on the networks] lots of clutter and longevity of programming, there is a lot of buzz on syndication," Ms. Carney says. "Everything people are wringing their hands over and saying they can't achieve in cable and network we can do. So we hope whatever buzz there is is around the effectiveness of syndication."
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