TV syndication rises 18% to $2 bil

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Riding the coattails of the hot broadcast upfront, TV syndication is moving at a quicker pace than cable, jumping 18% in overall revenue to $2 billion, up from $1.7 billion last year, according to the industry's advertising trade group, Syndicated Network Television Association.

"There was tremendous demand that spilled over from the broadcast market into the syndication market," said Gene DeWitt, president of SNTA. "A lot of people were having trouble meeting their ratings goals because of the broadcast network surprise."

"There's only a finite amount of inventory in those select [syndication] shows," said Bob Flood, senior VP-director national broadcast at Zenith Optimedia Group, jointly owned by Publicis Groupe and Cordiant Communications Group. "[Syndicators] certainly were the benefactors of that."

Cost-per-thousand viewer prices ranged widely. Some low-rated syndicated shows witnessed CPM declines, buyers said, while top-flight programs such as Columbia TriStar's "Seinfeld" and Warner Bros.' "Friends" got near double-digit CPM increases. Within the highest tier: King World Media Sales' "Wheel of Fortune" and "Everybody Loves Raymond" and Paramount Advertiser Sales' "Judge Judy."

The market is strong enough that some major national advertisers reallocated money from broadcast networks to buy syndication. A media executive at a young-skewing advertiser said the advertiser eschewed WB entirely because of the network's high double-digit yearly increases, and instead opted to buy syndication at a slightly lower cost.

Executives said syndication's limited programming inventory and generally higher ratings are helping the business outpace cable this upfront season. "There will be a proportionally greater increase with syndication than with cable," said one veteran media buyer. Early estimates were that cable would grow, at best, 10% to $4.4 billion.

Meanwhile, the cable market chugs along at a slower pace, because in part of its overabundance of inventory. "The cable networks are holding out," said one high-ranking media agency executive. "They are not giving up on their pricing. They are not caving in." Perhaps as evidence of this, a Turner spokesman said, "We have done approximately 65% to 70% of the deals we will complete "

Buyers say niche networks such as E.W. Scripps Co.'s Food Network and E!, majority owned by Comcast Communications Corp. and Walt Disney Co., are faring better with low to mid-single digit increases than general interest cable networks such as Vivendi Universal's USA Network.

surge in volume

Mark Lazarus, president of sales for AOL Time Warner's Turner Entertainment, said TNT and TBS are getting low to mid single-digit increases, while dollar volume is way up. "We are experiencing a surge in volume," he said.

One buyer, however, said Turner still has inventory to sell and may write CPM decreases before things wrap up. In a move to prevent this, several industry executives said Turner Broadcasting CEO Jamie Kellner instructed his staff that if advertisers would bolster CPMs on Turner's cable networks, they would see a reduction in the 12% to 14% CPM increases buyers paid for sibling broadcast network WB.

Mr. Lazarus denied this. "We have not done any of that to date," he said. "If clients want to come to us... we will be open to any conversations."

contributing: richard linnett

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