It may not be business as usual for broadcasters at NATPE, with syndicated shopping slipping into the doldrums as broadcasters express reluctance to invest in new product.
"I'd rather get added value out of something we already own, given what the track record is for new first-run in daytime these days," says Frank Cicha, vice president of programming for the Fox owned-and-operated TV stations. "It's been very bleak."
That's not to say that there hasn't been some pre-NATPE shopping. Stations have holes to fill, particularly those that need to replace Dr. Laura.
New talk offerings Ananda, Iyanla
and Crossing Over With John Edward
are attracting station interest. Dating shows Rendez-View, Elimidate
and The Fifth Wheel
are also gaining clearance.
The problem is that, because there have been no break-out hits and since much of the current daytime products' performance has been lackluster, broadcasters appear uncertain about which way they'll go.
"The big question is going to be whether to stay with the [daytime] schedule we currently have or try some new product," says Mary Carole McDonnell, vice president of programming for Raycom Media. "Do I stay with a product that is delivering a 1.5 or 2, or do I move forward and pick up a new product that won't guarantee I do as well or better?"
To make matters worse, many industry observers believe that the November ratings for syndicated product were skewed by the extended election coverage.
Media General is just one of several groups that has found it nearly impossible to make a fair evaluation based on November ratings. "There's no question the election had an impact," says Steve Gleason, vice president, programming and program development. "We're trying to decide whether we should give the stuff we have on the air more time."
Those are just some of the sentiments expressed by executives from the nation's Top 25 station groups surveyed on the eve of NATPE. The broadcasters shared their views about the syndication marketplace and their worries about its future and even discussed some of the product they've acquired.
One major group, Chris-Craft, is in a curious limbo. It is in the process of being acquired by Rupertr Murdoch's News Corp. in a merger that will create major duopolies with Fox stations in New York and Los Angeles, and may cause some trouble with the FCC. But neither News Corp. nor Fox can come to NATPE looking like they're buying for Chris-Craft-they don't own it yet.
There are broadcasters who believe that the best approach is to work together in developing new daytime product. That was the impetus behind the newly announced syndicated-programming-development and -distribution alliance between NBC Television Stations, Hearst-Argyle Television and Gannett. The partnership is aimed at giving stations more input into the development process and will hopefully produce programming that will deliver an audience.
"One of the issues we have with the current syndication process is that it has not provided enough winners," says NBC Television Stations President Jay Ireland. "That's why we feel great about this partnership. It will give us the capability to beat the odds."
It all seems open for debate as industry executives gather at NATPE this year to evaluate new product, make some deals, and perhaps just sit back and wait.