The loyal audiences for daytime TV mainstays like "Dr. Phil" can be potent lures for advertisers frustrated by unpredictability and time-shifting in prime-time. But that loyalty also makes daytime a tough club to break into -- a fact proven again this week by the early demise of Katie Couric's "Katie," the most-hyped new entry to hit the market in years.
But once a show gets established, it tends to stick around. The No. 1 show in daytime syndication, "Judge Judy," has been on the air since 1996. "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" has aired since 2003, Dr. Phil" has had his own show since 2002 and "Maury," No. 6 in daytime syndication, bowed in 1991. The longest-running daytime syndicated shows were "The Phil Donahue Show," which aired for 26 seasons, and "The Oprah Winfrey Show," which aired for 25 seasons.
It's the loyalty of the viewers and relative stability in ratings that continue to make daytime syndication an efficient buy for marketers, especially those in consumer packaged goods, said Bill Carroll, VP-director of programming, Katz Media Group, a media buying firm.
Most deals for daytime syndicated shows are struck for two or three years, too, meaning advertisers know they will be around, unlike new network prime-time shows which could be canceled after just one or two episodes.
"You can't overlook viewers knowing it is there, said Paul Montoya, president-media sales, CBS TV Distribution. "If you are out shopping one day at 4 p.m., the next day you know 'Judge Judy' will still be on. These shows are there year after year."
Marketers turn to daytime syndication for that reliability, not necessarily breakout hits. There are only a handful of really big draw, with most of the others clumped together further down the rankings and drawing under 2 million viewers on an average day.
But with about 90% of audience watching syndicated shows live, according to the Syndicated Networks TV Association, it's an attractive proposition for advertisers who are looking for ways to bust the DVR. The more viewership is delayed, the less likely consumers are seeing their commercials.
It's also appealing for marketers that need to get their message out there for an immediate response, like retail and quick-service restaurants.
"What better time for a restaurant to get their message out then at 4 p.m., when mom is thinking about dinner?" Mr. Montoya said.
Advertisers spent $5.1 billion in syndication as a whole in 2012, up from $4.7 billion in 2011, according to Kantar Media.
Syndicated programs are sold to local TV stations by distributors, and are largely scheduled outside of prime-time in either daytime, late-night or "access," the hours between daytime and prime-time. Most are barter syndication, meaning they come to TV with the bulk of their advertising pre-sold. Some daytime shows are syndicated without a fee, with all parties looking to make money from their share of the ad time.
Overall ratings for daytime syndication have been steady, with some shows seeing an uptick in viewers this season: "Judge Judy's" viewership is up 4%, "Family Feud" has gained 11%, "Ellen's" audience has grown 9%, "Divorce Court" has surged nearly 17% and "Steve Harvey" has shot up a whopping 28%.
"That defies conventional wisdom that broadcast ratings are down every year," said Brad Adgate, senior VP-research, Horizon Media.
Of course, like the rest of TV, syndication is facing the challenge of viewer fragmentation. It's unlikely we will ever see the likes of Oprah Winfrey again, who in her peak in the early 1990s drew about 13 million viewers on an average weekday. By the time "The Oprah Winfrey Show" ended in May 2011, it was averaging around 6 million viewers.
Lots of chat
Daytime syndication is overwhelming filled with talk shows, which are typically cheap to produce.
That's not always the case, however. One of the biggest issues with "Katie" was the costly licensing fees that affiliates paid to carry the show, which elevated the expectations for the show from the onset. While "Katie" is averaging about 2.2 million viewers -- on par with "Steve Harvey," which has been considered a success -- this has disappointed station groups.
"The two measures of success are the ability to hold or build on a lead-in and how a show performs relative to what it replaces," said Mr. Carroll, who follows the syndication market at Katz. "In both cases, 'Katie' has failed, where 'Steve Harvey' has been a success."
With "Katie" off the air, another former "Today" host, Meredith Vieira, will be the next big-name personality to try her hand at daytime. "The Meredith Vieira Show," which will debut in fall 2014, has been sold in 85% of the country, NBC Universal Domestic TV Distribution announced this week.
Also in the pipeline for fall 2014 is "The Real," a panel talk show akin to ABC's "The View," which is meant to skew younger and be more ethnically diverse. ("The View" is still a daytime power, but it is a network show, not part of the syndication game.)
This season's new entrants, talk shows from Queen Latifah and Bethenny Frankel, are both expected to be renewed, but are averaging just 1.5 million and 1.1 million viewers, respectively.
Even more so than ratings, media buyers are making many of their decisions based on how a personality aligns with a brand and its message, Mr. Poer said.
Doctor and medical shows tends to attract more affluent, older audiences, while Queen Latifah and Wendy Williams are better suited for marketers looking to reach a multi-cultural audience, Mr. Poer said. "In syndication, you are not buying a time, you are buying an audience," he said. "You go at it from a targeted approach. You buy on authenticity and credibility of the host. An advertiser needs to believe host is a good fit and the product is something they believe in."
"When you look at 'Judge Judy,' viewers aren't tuning in to watch the case of the stolen cat, they like Judy," Mr. Montoya said.
The social presence of these personalities has also become an increasingly important factor. Mr. Poer cited Ms. DeGeneres, one of the first daytime personalities to develop a social audience and regularly uses the internet to discover talent and insert pop culture into the show.
"This all needs to be part of the landscape now," he said.
Court still in session
For all the talk shows bringing on famous guests, faux courtrooms remain a staple in daytime. There's never less than about a half dozen court shows on the air, Mr. Carroll noted.
But when it comes to ratings, it's "Judge Judy" and then everyone else. The queen of the courtroom averages about 9.8 million viewers, while the next closest in the genre, "People's Court," pulls about 2.4 million on an average day.
The demographics for court shows are different than the rest of daytime, tending to attract a younger and more urban audience, Mr. Carroll said.
With few holes in the schedule for 2014, there is little room for new entrants in court and crime. Currently, "Hot Bench," a new panel court show created by "Judge Judy" star Judy Sheindlin, is reportedly searching for launch stations.
But 2015 could be a big year for the daytime legalese, with former NBC News correspondent Chris Hansen reportedly looking to come back to TV with a daily syndicated talk show with a true crime focus, as well as several other court and crime shows in the pipeline.
Game shows, which historically were a staple in daytime, have been a quiet category for a decade.
While "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy" still thrive in the access hours, "Family Feud" and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" have been the sole survivors of the genre in daytime.
But fall 2014 will see a new entrant with "Celebrity Name Game," a spin on the board game Identity Crisis, which will be hosted by Craig Ferguson.