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Buyers Hold On Syndication

7/18/2004 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Overzealous pricing demands stalled syndication upfront negotiations, say industry sources. Meanwhile, third-quarter scatter is tightening, they say, though some opportunities exist.

"There are still pieces of the upfront going on," says Gibbs Haljun, group director/national broadcast, MediaVest, "although I expect it'll be completed soon."

He confirms that agencies had "disagreements over pricing"—specifically, syndicators were seeking double-digit increases: "The agencies simply weren't going to pay, and the agencies held."

Why? "Because no one syndicator has a portfolio of all must-buy programs," Haljun says. "Each has one or two, but they all have other inventory. Warner Bros. has thousands of hours of inventory, not just Friends." Upfront price increases, depending on the package, "run a broad range of single-digit increases."

Aaron Cohen, EVP/director of national broadcast, Horizon Media, agrees. "Very few syndicated programs warranted double-digit increases, especially since neither cable nor broadcast got them this year." Syndication isn't in as much of a favored position [as broadcast], he says: "There's no hard and fast rule that says you must spend money on syndication."

Insiders are reporting third-quarter pricing is up 6% from last year.

Meanwhile, as network summer reruns spur viewership drops across broadcast, the Syndicated Network Television Association is touting its ratings stability. "Overall syndicated ratings remain consistent throughout the year, even throughout the summer when most networks experience rerun ratings lag," says SNTA President Mitch Burg. "Even networks that put on new programs this summer have not held consistent ratings patterns. Syndicated fare has."

But Cohen says, although syndication does do well in the summer, distributors' ratings projections are overstated.

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