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Slow recovery for syndication

The hardest-hit segment in 2001, it's predicted to see 1% growth this year 4/14/2002 08:00:00 PM Eastern

The good news for syndication is that 2001 is over. The hardest-hit segment in the worst year for TV advertising in 50 years, syndication was, by some estimates, down 25% to 30%, to between $1.8 billion and $1.68 billion.

As for this year, it has apparently hit bottom and will start to climb back up again, however slowly. Two recent analyst reports, from Morgan Stanley and UBS Warburg, predict 1% growth for syndication.

Tim Spengler, executive vice president, director of national broadcast, Initiative Media North America, says those analyst estimates are probably in the ballpark.

"There aren't a lot of new shows that are getting a lot of attention," he observes. On the other hand, he doesn't foresee another huge drop in business. "It's definitely in a lower place than it was, but there are enough top shows in access and in other areas that I think it's going to be relatively stable and may grow slightly."

What is really needed, he says, is some buzz, from a hot new show or genre: "There's no major excitement in the segment."

It's a point well taken by some executives in the business who want to change that perception. One of those executives is Steve Mosko, president, Columbia TriStar Domestic Television.

For the past year, Mosko and his team have been planning and, more recently, executing a new marketing campaign designed to create a more positive image for syndication generally, and also sell the products that Columbia TriStar has to offer.

Mosko and Columbia decided to go their own way with their campaign, in lieu of joining the Syndicated Network Television Association. SNTA was recently reorganized and counts among its members most of the other major syndicators that sell national ad time (Warner Bros. and Paramount among them). The members recently hired ad agency veteran Gene DeWitt to run the organization.

Like Mosko, DeWitt believes that syndication as an industry has undermarketed itself and his job is to develop a campaign and other marketing tools to get advertisers to buy into the concept.

But Mosko says he can't wait any longer. "It has nothing to do with Gene DeWitt or SNTA, but we've been at this six to eight months now. We saw syndication undervalued in the marketplace and no one doing anything about it. We can't wait a year to get a pitch together. We need to sell product now."

As part of its campaign, Columbia TriStar has launched a series of print ads— under the banner "Syndication Works!"—to highlight the value of syndication for advertisers. One of the ads points to the fact that Seinfeld
delivers more young adults in its syndication run than 90% of all network shows on the air today.

You want moviegoers? Buy Ricki Lake, is the pitch of another ad.

A marketing presentation makes the point that, while syndication is perceived as a collection of shows, at Columbia TriStar, it's organized very much like a network, with support staff that includes departments for promotion, research, programming, advertising, affiliate relations and so on.

Stuart Zimmerman has been tapped as vice president, sales development, for the company, and his job is to make believers out of would-be clients. He will spend most of his time carrying the message to advertisers and agencies. He has been with the company since 1998.

As for what's ahead, Mosko is hopeful that 2002 will see increases in national syndication ad sales, both at Columbia TriStar and for the industry. He's not making any specific projections but says, "I think we'll see a positive uptick. Business people are now at the point where they want to start building brands again and increase their share of market through advertising." And Mosko and Columbia TriStar will be more than happy to oblige.

Syndication '02: Up slightly
Forecaster Change
Source: analyst reports
Morgan Stanley +1%
UBS Warburg +1%
September
October