Getting bang for the syndication buck

Bodenmann talks straight about what needs to be done to ensure continued sales success

It's been about two years since Allison Bodenmann took the helm of the Syndicated Network Television Association (SNTA), the trade association for syndication-advertising-sales companies and successor organization to the Advertiser Syndicated Television Association. In the following Q & A with B & C Deputy Editor Steve McClellan, Bodenmann talks about the past year, how her members are dealing with the current advertising environment and what the expectations are going forward.

How much syndication advertising revenue was there in 2000?

We came very close to $2.4 billion, even with some options [that is, advertisers canceling some ad buys]. I think that the syndicators did very well in terms of percent sellout in the upfront.

How far were they sold?

I'd say pretty much everyone was close to 75%, 80% sold, but they'd like to be more than that and more heavily sold in daytime than other dayparts.

So that left between 20% and 25% for scatter?

For scatter and for make-goods. So everyone who is in the upfront marketplace this year is going to deliver their schedule this year.

How so?

Because the scatter market was really quiet in the fourth quarter. There's been a little more activity in the first but not much. But it was nonexistent in the fourth.

That seemed to be the universal story. What about the make-good situation? The November book was not so good, was it?

There were some programs that were down in the fourth quarter compared to the prior fourth quarter. But that doesn't necessarily mean they're down compared to what people sold their numbers on.

That's true ...

So I think that from what I heard from all of my members prior to Christmas, everybody who bought fourth-quarter inventory was going to deliver their schedules.

You mean basically achieve their gross rating-point goals?

Yes. So make-goods were taken care of. I really haven't heard agencies complain about that lately. Under-delivery was an issue a couple of years ago.

What do the tea leaves tell you about 2001?

I think 5% growth is achievable. I don't think 20% growth is achievable.

So you think syndication will gain 5% this year?

I think we will. I think my members [syndicators who belong to the SNTA] would like to do 10%. I think they'll be happy with 5%.

Based on the upfront performance, were expectations largely met this year?

It depends on when you ask people their expectations. I think, early on, they were largely met. Then, once many of my members started reading the trades about the huge network upfront, the huge upfronts in cable, they started being concerned that their expectations were low and that they didn't do as well as everyone else.

But then, after the fourth quarter, people started ordering everything, and everyone started complaining. The syndicators sat down and said, maybe we did better than a lot of other people did.

What kind of price hikes, in terms of cost-per-thousand viewers, did syndication get this year?

We look at it in tiers. So I'd say for the top-tier stuff, it was anywhere from 12% to 15%. For the middle-tier programming, it was 7%, 8%, and, for the lower-tiered programming, it was flat or up 3%. And those are pretty much the same ranges that we have had in the last two or three years.

And what about the size of the market in 1999?

It was $2.2 billion. It's growing, but it's growing slowly. It's about the same pace that it's been for the last, I don't know, five, six years.

Are we headed for a recession?

If I knew that answer, I think I'd be making a lot more money. I've been in this business for maybe 22 years now, and there have always been cycles. Up and down, and we've had up for a long, long time, much longer than anybody has anticipated.

When will advertisers and agencies have their budgets ready?

I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be the same time as it always is: April and May.

And what's your pitch for getting them to increase the syndication piece?

We're showing them that, if you look at syndication, especially the evening-oriented syndication, and compare it to most of prime time television, the ratings are really comparable if not higher and the pricing is considerably cheaper.

But you're excluding the highest-rated network shows.

Right, but, if you take away the top 20 network shows and then you compare the other 95 shows to the top 20 or 30 shows in syndication, it's a really good story.

So it's sort of a more-bang-for-the- buck pitch?

Advertisers have started to say we have got to find a way to save some money. If you look at prime time, there are so many shows on the air that just don't deliver that good of an audience.

Part of your mission has been to get advertisers who haven't been in syndication or have been light users to use it more. Have you been able to do that?

Yes, we have. We've developed business from several of the fast-food companies. Gotten them to step up and use more. Some of the automotives have used more. We have gotten some credit card business that we didn't get before.