'Dr. Phil' energizes syndication market

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The syndication market, which experienced a poor 2001 upfront marketplace, has gotten a much-needed boost from "Dr. Phil."

Ratings for "Dr. Phil" are so healthy that distributor King World has priced the show as high as 75% above what it charged during the upfront selling season.

A 30-second spot in the upfront for the syndicated talk forum sold for an estimated $20,000, according to executives familiar with the matter. In the scatter market for early next year, 30-second spots are on the block for some $35,000. Traditionally-even in a good year-a syndicated hit will garner pricing jumps of single-digit increases in scatter, according to one media buying executive.

But "Dr. Phil"-hosted by former Oprah regular, tough-talking psychologist Phillip McGraw-has broken more than one mold. The show averaged a Nielsen rating of a 4.2 over its first three weeks following its Sept. 16 launch. That's compared to the already aggressive 4.0 King World Productions guaranteed advertisers in the upfront. "Dr. Phil" ranked as the 11th highest rated show out of all syndicated shows in its third week, according to Nielsen Syndicated Service.

Historically, syndicated shows under-deliver by at least 20% to 30% on ratings for reasons that are largely to do with the shows running on a range of local stations at shifting time periods.

A King World spokeswoman declined to comment.

It is early in Dr. Phil's life cycle and the show has enjoyed some advantages over most new syndicated talk shows with its "Oprah Winfrey Show" connection and pre-launch buzz. "He built some loyalty there and there was a lot of promotion behind it," said Stacey Shepatin, VP-director of network buying for Interpublic Group of Cos.' Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston.

The ratings mean the syndicator likely has few make-goods to deliver and thus can sell spots put aside as potential paybacks at the higher price. King World also has a potential long-term hit to carry it in the afternoon block after Oprah ends her show in 2006 ("Oprah" is the cream of the talk-show crop with an estimated $60,000 a spot).

But the high-pricing throughout the TV marketplace right now, including syndication-which saw a recovery from 2001's upfront-belies the staggering economy.

"It's an illogical market," said a media executive. "It's not mirroring the economy whatsoever."

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