Upfront Central

Syndication Upfront Jumps 10% to $2.4 Billion

Studios sell more advance inventory, trying to keep scatter high sans Oprah 6/20/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Like the rest of the upfront market, syndication
sales were fast and furious, and were completed
alongside of network and cable. By several
accounts, a 10% increase over last year to a $2.4 billion
overall take is a conservative estimate.

“This year was fast and right on time,” says a syndication
advertising executive. “It was great that syndication
was negotiated along with network and cable. That
shows that more people are recognizing that we offer a
true alternative.”

“We had one of the best upfronts that we’ve ever
had,” says another syndicator.

Syndication is sold in tiers, and each tier of programming
was up by a different amount. Top-tier shows
earned increases in the low double-digits; mid-tier shows
improved by high single digits; and third-tier shows increased
by approximately 5%, said several executives.
“Syndication really runs daytime, especially now
with ABC canceling the soap operas. We have truly big
brands in daytime—Ellen is a brand, Live With Regis and
is a brand, Dr. Oz is a brand. Who would want to
give that up?” says another syndication advertising exec.

Syndicators sold a much greater proportion of their
available inventory in this year’s upfront—up to 85%, according
to several execs—because a softer scatter market
is expected after last year’s exceeded pricing expectations.

“Typically if there was a strong scatter market, which
there was this year, the next year isn’t as strong,” says
an advertising salesperson. “Clients decide they don’t
want to pay increases in scatter, so they put more of
their money into the upfront.”

Another reason that syndicators are holding less back
for scatter is because they expect ratings to be down
next year, with Oprah out of the marketplace and with
two new shows on ABC’s daytime lineup. Syndicators
hope that by selling most of their inventory in the upfront
they will keep scatter prices high.

“A slight decrease in rating means there’s less overall
inventory. That drives up prices,” says Ira Bernstein,
copresident of Debmar-Mercury.

Replacing the ‘Oprah’ Money

What happened to the so-called “Oprah money” was a
big question posed in this upfront, but most executives
thought those dollars, as much as $70 million, were
dispersed throughout the market.

“The Oprah money went everywhere,” says an ad executive.
“Do I think that other syndicated shows like
Ellen, Live With Regis and Kelly, Dr. Oz and Anderson got
some? Absolutely. Do I think some of it went to cable?
Sure, why not? Do I think some of it went away? Yes. I
think it went everywhere, but I would also guess that a
lot of it stayed in television.”

“Daytime was very strong in this upfront,” says
Bernstein. “Just because Oprah left daytime doesn’t
mean that brands don’t need to advertise in daytime
anymore. We probably had some increase in the daytime
spend just because it remains a strong and efficient
daypart for advertisers.”

Syndication’s continued advantage in the ad market
is its reliability and consistency, say several executives.

“What used to be considered unsexy in a very unsettled
media landscape has become sexy,” says one exec.
“The networks launch programs all the time, but they are
often not there for the balance of the year. Clients find
value in the reliability and consistency of syndication.”

One show that performed better than usual was Debmar-
Mercury’s Family Feud. Feud, which is moving production
to Atlanta from Orlando next year, saw its ratings
improve this season by as much as 80% in some markets.
That improvement is largely credited to the performance
of the show’s new host, Steve Harvey. (Nielsen’s
change to its measuring system, by which the research
company now counts all of a show’s runs in its ratings
average, also gave Feud a boost.)

Those improved ratings mean improved revenue,
which was one of the goals of switching to Harvey from
John O’Hurley, who hosted the show from 2006-2010.
Another result of the improved ratings is upgrades for
the show to access in several markets.

Advertisers also were interested in the new shows
coming to market. Advertisers like the ratings potential
and safe environment of Warner Bros.’ off-net comedy
The Big Bang Theory, which enters syndication this fall
along with NBCU’s runs of 30 Rock and Twentieth’s It’s
Always Sunny in Philadelphia
and Futurama.

Advertisers also were attracted to Warner Bros.’ new
talker, Anderson, whose host, Anderson Cooper, has a
lot of credibility, and Debmar-Mercury’s Jeremy Kyle,
which is going after the same advertisers as daytime’s
other conflict talkers, such as NBCU’s Maury, Jerry
and Steve Wilkos.

E-mail comments to palbiniak@gmail.com
and follow her on Twitter: @PaigeA


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