New Shows Have BuyersTalking About Syndication

Whether big stars attract big upfront commitments remains to be seen

A bumper crop of new daytime talk shows are jockeying for position with media buyers as the upfront advertising sales season approaches.

The syndicators took their stars—Katie Couric, Jeff Probst, Ricki Lake and Steve Harvey—to early meetings with buyers, looking to get sponsors on board and integrated into the shows.

The syndicators are looking to win steep prices to help pay for their high-priced talent. But one buyer says he’s not sure it’s worth the risk to buy a position in a new show for close to what clients would pay for a more established program.

“My level of fear in getting engaged with a new show is high because the level of failure is significant,” says Jason Kanefsky, executive director of strategic investments at media agency MPG.

Syndicators are looking for $20 to $28 CPMs (cost per thousand viewers) in the women 25-to-54 daytime demo, close to the $30 CPM that top-rated established shows attract, according to market sources.

“When some of these daytime properties are only going to deliver a 1.5 rating, why am I paying $25 for that?” Kanefsky asks.

The syndicators say their new shows will fill a daytime gap left by the departure of Oprah Winfrey two years ago and the cancellation of soap operas by the broadcast networks.

John Nogawski, president of CBS Television Distribution, says advertisers have already committed to sponsor Jeff Probst.

“Early on, we had decided that we would like to have a different kind of relationship. Rather than waiting until the show begins, we wanted to have an early dialog so we could see what was important for some key specific clients,” Nogawski says. He says brands in those three or four categories “are certainly going to be very visible inside this television show for the first 52 weeks.”

Katie Couric’s new show is reportedly seeking the highest prices from advertisers. Katie also become a lightning rod for criticism by rivals who point to ratings improvements at Today and the CBS Evening News after Couric left those shows and a lack of a ratings bump for her recent appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America.

Nevertheless, Howard Levy, executive VP for ad sales at Disney-ABC Domestic Television, says Couric’s show, executive produced by former NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Zucker, has been getting a terrific reception. “We’ve got a couple of people looking right now in terms of sponsorships,” says Levy. “We haven’t had a lot of hesitation because people know who she is, they know she’s got a lot of integrity. Between those two [factors], they have a high comfort level.”

“There’s going to be a lot of demand,” Levy added. “I’m not going to comment on our pricing structure, but I think people recognize it’s going to be a good show.”

Twentieth Television thinks it has a winner with the return of Ricki Lake to the talk show field. Like her audience, Lake is a bit older now and facing different issues than when she did her old show. “If you pull back a little it and say who’s more approachable to that daytime audience, who’s more accessible to that daytime audience,” it’s Lake, says Joe Oulvey, Twentieth executive VP for ad sales.

NBCUniversal Domestic TV Distribution is pushing Steve Harvey, fronted by the comedian who has turned around Family Feud. “Daytime viewers say they like Steve Harvey,” says Bo Argentino, senior VP of advertising and media sales for NBCU DTD.

“We’re well aware that we have a lot of company, but I think that’s a good thing because it means we’re still programming for the stations and that they’re still looking for new product,” Argentino says. “Daytime is still an important daypart for many categories because of its efficiencies, and because we have unique genres specific to syndication.”

NBCU is also selling Trisha, a talk show starring Trisha Goddard and produced by the team behind Maury.

The volume of new talk shows could give buyers the opportunity to play the syndicators off one another to get better deals. It also means that it’s likely not all of the shows will survive long-term.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how that shakes out in the daytime marketplace,” says Twentieth’s Oulvey.

With so many new players, how about one more? “I would give Tim Tebow a talk show,” says MPG’s Kanefsky, referring to the NFL quarterback recently traded to the New York Jets after becoming a sensation in the NFL for a string of last-minute comebacks and his strong Christian faith. “The women would love him. He’s very well-spoken,” Kanefsky says.

In other dayparts, syndication looks strong, with offnetwork shows scoring high ratings at a time when the networks are looking to augment their primetime ratings with time-shifting viewers watching ondemand and online.

“The high-end syndication properties are not cheap, but they deliver a value,” says Kanefsky.

Kanefsky says that syndication’s perceived value is damaged because its shows don’t run in pattern between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. like network shows do. “That argument is somewhat being spun on its head, because guess what? If I’m buying time-shifted C3 [ratings], I could be reaching somebody at 3 o’clock in the afternoon,” he says.

Even without a new talk show to pitch, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution was out pitching advertisers earlier than usual for this upfront.

“Given the success we’ve had with Big Bang Theory coupled with Two and a Half Men, we have an incredible reach story that competes head-to-head with the broadcast networks,” says Michael Teicher, executive VP, media sales for WBDTD. “We felt that was a message we had better get out to advertisers as soon as possible, so they could see all the alternatives they have to reach their targeted audiences most efficiently and effectively.”

E-mail comments to jlafayette@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette