That's the word from Bob Dahill, VP-general sales manager at International Family Entertainment's MTM Advertiser Sales, and also the current president of the Advertiser Syndicated Television Association.
Syndication has always been a competitive market, Mr. Dahill says, "but now you've got the WB and UPN [networks], which are backed by strong branding campaigns. That just makes it tougher."
As the syndicated TV industry convenes in New Orleans this week for the annual National Association of Television Program Executives, syndicators are looking for ways to give their shows-and, therefore, the advertisers within them-more recognition in the marketplace.
OPPORTUNITIES ON `THE CAPE'
For example, there's "The Cape," a weekly first-run show revolving around astronauts at Cape Canaveral. The program, from MTM Television, enters its sophomore year this fall.
Mr. Dahill is looking for a sports apparel brand to come up with a Cape Gear outerwear line. The actors in the show would wear the apparel in certain scenes, and the line could be supported with point-of-purchase material as well as in free-standing inserts in newspapers.
"It's just the co-branding kind of thing we're going to see more and more of," Mr. Dahill predicts.
Already, General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet car and truck divisions have placed vehicles on the show and have bought media time. Mr. Dahill also would like to see a communications equipment company provide phones and fax machines used by characters in "The Cape."
"Advertisers are looking for ways to partner with syndicated programming, and more and more producers are seeing it as a win-win situation," Mr. Dahill says.
Mr. Dahill says those partnerships will extend to the Internet as well.
"An advertiser can sponsor an interactive game on a show's Web site. It's also an environment where certain merchandise can be demonstrated and/or sold," he says.
Columbia TriStar Advertising Sales, which traditionally has been active in using advertiser tie-ins for launches of its off-network sitcoms, could unveil major ad tie-ins in its new first-run offering "Vibe."
The one-hour talk show, to air this fall, takes the style and attitude of Vibe, a hip-hop culture magazine, and is targeted at the same urban late-night crowd that once loyally watched "The Arsenio Hall Show."
The program's executive producers are Quincy Jones, founder of the magazine, and David Salzman, a longtime veteran of the syndication business.
`HALF A DOZEN' INTERESTED
"We've already had half a dozen major advertisers interesting in doing something with the show," says Chris Kager, VP-sales and marketing for Columbia Tri-Star Advertising Sales.
One of those potential deals is with a soft drink company that is talking about sponsoring a major segment within the show, according to another executive familiar with the situation.
In the case of "Vibe," advertisers are clearly trying to get in on the ground floor of what they hope is a hit show.
"Despite all the competition, there's always room for a hit, for the next Rosie O'Donnell," says MTM's Mr. Dahill.
`ROSIE' THE BIG STORY
"The Rosie O'Donnell Show," from Warner Bros. Domestic Television, has been the big story in syndication this past season.
Indeed, while advertisers might appreciate product placement and licensed merchandise opportunities, they're more interested in ratings.
"The biggest issue facing syndicators going into last year's NATPE was daytime syndicated talk shows," says Dan Rank, exec VP-director of Optimum network at DDB Needham Worldwide, New York.
The saucy content of some talk shows spurred public outrage. Some special-interest groups, such as former Secretary of Education William Bennett's organization Empower America, tried to persuade marketers not to advertise on the shows until the programs cleaned up their act.
But stations and advertisers were worried that squeaky clean talk shows, outside of an "Oprah Winfrey Show" or a "Live With Regis and Kathie Lee," wouldn't draw an audience.
Yet viewers have flocked to Ms. O'Donnell's show, attracted to her comic persona and upbeat interview style. In October 1996, "Rosie" ranked No. 2 with women age 25 to 54.
"The success of Rosie practically defused the [trash talk] issue overnight," Mr. Rank says.
Now come the imitators. The most exciting possibility for viewers and advertisers was the rumor that Bette Midler wants to host her own talk show at some point.
Despite the popularity of Ms. O'Donnell's show-and the copycat nature of syndicated TV programmers-some observers don't see any show genre as being hot.
"I don't see any clear trends going into this year's convention," says Bill Carroll, VP-director of programming for Katz Television Group. "The big syndicators continue to flex their muscles, making it harder and harder for the little guys."
Mr. Carroll says there may be a mini-trend in the court show category, with the success of Worldvision Enterprises' "Judge Judy" this past season and the return later this year of Warner Bros.' "The People's Court" with the effervescent Ed Koch, former mayor of New York.
Katz likes Martha Stewart going daily in a half-hour strip, but Ruth Lee Leaycraft, director of programming for Katz Continental Television, which represents small to mid-size TV stations, is less sanguine on Eyemark Entertainment's "The Gayle King Show," being packaged to run in the same hour with Ms. Stewart.
Both shows target women 18 to 49 and 25 to 54 and will cross-promote each other.
`LATITUDE' FOR KING
"We advise [stations] negotiating, if possible, wider latitude for scheduling [Ms. King's show]," Ms. Leaycraft says.
On the magazine-show side, Katz doesn't like any of the newcomers, advising stations to stay with what they have and to check out the new Maury Povich/Connie Chung offering from Dreamworks SKG that will be ready for 1998.
As the marketplace has become more crowded, Mr. Carroll says Katz has come up this definition of success for a syndicated show: "It has to keep the lead-in audience and improve the ratings in the time period from the show it replaces."
He concedes this is a far cry from the times when a new syndicated show, to be described as a hit, had to at least win its time period.