Syndie Spots Pass $200k Mark
But advertisers worry about what's new in the pipeline
By Steve McClellan -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/11/2004 7:00:00 PM
The syndication ad business broke through a new barrier during the 2002-03 season: For the first time, advertisers gobbled up two shows priced at more than $200,000 per-30-second-unit.
Not surprisingly, it was the top two rated off-network comedies on the air: Warner Bros.'Friends, priced at $209,000 per spot, and Sony Pictures Television's Seinfeld, right behind with a price tag of $207,000. Sources familiar with the numbers confirmed the prices.
Higher-rated off-network comedies tend to get the best prices in the business. As Bill Carroll, vice president of programming for the Katz Media Group, notes, such shows tend to have a broader audience base. Of course, they also tend to air in time periods with bigger audiences, such as access (6-8 p.m.).
According to the B ROADCASTING & C ABLE exclusive survey of syndicated spot prices, 12 of the 25 priciest shows are off-net sitcoms, including four of the top five. Everybody Loves Raymond was third with a price tag of $135,000 and Will & Grace, at $110,000, rounded out the top five.
The only new show cracking the top 25 this season is Sony Pictures Television's King of Queens, debuting in seventh place with a $92,000 price tag.
The priciest first-run show on the list is Paramount's Entertainment Tonight, ranked fourth at $113,000. Other first-run shows cracking the top 10, all from King World: Wheel of Fortune ($95,000), Jeopardy ($90,000) and The Oprah Winfrey Show ($85,000).
Howard Levy, executive vice president responsible for advertising sales at Buena Vista Television, wouldn't confirm prices but did say he's "real excited about the prospects for the syndication business in 2004. We're on a pretty terrific roll."
Levy, who is also chairman of the Syndicated Network Television Association, cited Dr. Phil, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire and That '70s Show as three examples from last year's crop of syndicated programs that struck as chord with audiences.
And others point out that, this year, freshman first-run The Ellen DeGeneres Show has drawn promising numbers and The King of Queens has posted moderate, if not Friends-like numbers as well. Some believe that K of Q will continue to grow in syndication.
But both Friends and Seinfeld have been in syndication for a while now, and advertisers worry that they haven't seen shows of that quality or with such popular followings enter syndication—or even come on the networks, for that matter.
Peter Butchen, senior vice president, group director, national broadcast, Initiative, says that "syndication's biggest problem going forward is the lack of off-network properties that are really blockbuster properties. There are no Friends, Seinfelds or Raymonds in the pipeline. "
Katz's Carroll sees Butchen's point but believes that those current big guns in syndication have enough staying power to buy the sellers time to come up with hits down the road: "These shows are perennial solid performers, and they are going to be around next year, the year after that and the year after that." In the mean time, he added, Malcolm in the Middle will come on stream next season, clearly with hit potential to some degree, and, in fall 2005, My Wife and Kids will bow and has a "pretty good shot" at hit status.
Michael Teicher, executive vice president, media sales, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, agrees. "Certainly Friends, Seinfeld and Raymond are the stalwarts of the syndication business, and they will be strong for a long time." He declined to talk about prices for Warner Bros. shows.
As for the pipeline, though, Teicher sees a "tremendous opportunity" when a syndicated version of Sex and the City hits the airwaves in the fall of 2005. Some of the crude language and sexier scenes will be cleaned up but Teicher, who has screened a number of those episodes, says it doesn't take anything away from the show. In fact, it adds to it, he says, "because it takes away some of the distractions and focuses the viewer on what a well-executed, top-notch comedy the show really is."
As for the current marketplace, sellers say the first quarter has firmed up somewhat compared with a very quiet fourth quarter, when there was very little scatter business to speak of. There has been more buying in the first quarter. While first quarter tends to be on the quiet side anyway, after the holiday rush, some sellers said business activity was at least approaching normal sales levels for the period.
How the market unfolds in the coming months and into the 2004 upfront marketplace remains to be seen. Buyers and sellers alike say it's too early to get a read on the upfront.
But buyers do say that there is still a reservoir of resentment at the aggressive price hikes that sellers of TV time imposed on them last year. And that's as much a syndication and cable issue as it is a broadcast-TV issue, they say. "I don't think any buyer was pleased with this past year," says Butchen.
Ray Warren of OMD agrees. "We were all unhappy with the pricing." But, in fact, through the first quarter anyway, most of the money stuck as few advertisers exercised options to get out of their upfront buys. "People had the money," he says, "and they kept most of that inventory."
|Top 25 Priciest Shows|
|Average rate for a 30-second spot, 4Q '03|
|Sources: Syndication and advertising-agency executives
|3||Everybody Loves Raymond||King World||$135K|
|5||Will & Grace||Warner Bros.||$110K|
|6||Wheel of Fortune||King World||$95K|
|7||King of Queens||Sony||$92K|
|9||That '70s Show||Twentieth||$86K|
|10||Oprah Winfrey Show||King World||$85K|
|12||Home Improvement||Buena Vista||$65K|
|15||Access Hollywood||Warner Bros.||$54K|
|16||King of the Hill||Twentieth||$52K|
|17||Drew Carey||Warner Bros.||$50K|
|18||Dr. Phil||King World||$45K|
|19||Just Shoot Me||Sony||$40K|
|20||Inside Edition||King World||$35K|
|20||Hollywood Squares||King World||$35K|
|20||Live With Regis and Kelly||Buena Vista||$35K|
|24||Chris Matthews Show||MGM/NBC||$34K|
|25||Who Wants To Be Millionaire||Buena Vista||$29K|
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