SNTA Chief Comes Out Swinging

Says syndication is growing faster than network

Speaking ahead of the broadcast upfronts, Mitch Burg, president of the Syndicated Network Television Association (SNTA), says he's glad syndication gets lower CPMs (costs per thousand) from advertisers than the broadcast networks. The lower cost makes it more desirable to buyers, he says, especially in a tough advertising environment.

Many in the media-buying community agree. Scott Haugenes, senior VP of national broadcast for Initiative Media, says having the cheaper CPMs “definitely helps.”

Ad buyers say the difference in CPMs is the result of having syndicated shows run in a variety of different time periods, stretching from daytime to late night. Additionally, they point to varying forms of ratings measurement and restrictions placed on advertisers for syndicated offerings. Haugenes cites as an example advertisers' having to run their national syndicated spots during two-week movie broadcast windows, which can limit their flexibility.

Yet top-tier syndicated shows like The Oprah Winfrey Show ($10.80 per thousand) and Entertainment Tonight ($13.25) fetch network-level CPMs. Appearing in late-afternoon early-fringe slots leading into prime, the shows played a significant role in boosting full-year syndication revenues in 2005. Burg pegs the tally at $4.2 billion—higher than Fox, The WB and UPN—versus more than $3.8 billion in 2004.

Overall, Burg says, syndication advertising is up 32% over the past five years, while networks are at a 21% increase. “We don't consider [syndication to be] bargain-basement,” Haugenes says. “It has a lot of value. [The top shows] all have the ratings and audience to support them.”

With mild ratings erosion in most categories, CPMs for the syndication business as a whole are expected to remain flat this year, with revenues growing perhaps 2%-3%.

While off-network sitcoms, such as Seinfeld and Friends, represent many of the highest-grossing syndicated shows, original series are the bulk of business. “First-run programs constitute 70% of syndicated programming and two-thirds of the dollars that syndication generates,” says Burg.

Like the broadcast networks, some first-run shows could also benefit from multiple-platform delivery. Media buyers are having sponsors buy spots for one program on TV and all of its other platforms, including Web sites, which allows them to follow viewers wherever they may be watching. “That is a big thing for us right now,” Haugenes says.

Besides price, SNTA has been using every “wow” point at its disposal to attract advertisers as the upfronts approach. The organization hopes to overcome issues like DVR viewership and new mini-networks eating away at gross ratings points.

Burg is using a presentation that favorably compares syndication with networks in terms of long-term ratings growth, ad clutter, brand retention, consistency and delivering younger demos. But some advertisers say it's not fair to pit five-day-a-week strip shows airing at all times of the day against network series that air once a week in prime.

One element Burg touts is that 78% of syndicated shows are viewed “live” rather than recorded—much higher than with a broadcast program. “When they're worried about fragmentation,” says Burg, “we're not fragmenting.”