SNTA Considers Scrapping Pitch Meetings

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The Syndicated Network Television Association’s board, under pressure to improve ad sales after only a 3% rise in this year’s syndication upfront, next month will weigh whether to scrap an expensive series of annual pre-upfront pitch meetings with media buyers and planners in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, industry sources say.

Intrigue about the future of SNTA Day, syndication’s showcase ad sales event, surfaced last week. There has been talk about the possible departure of Tribune Entertainment Co., one of the group’s eight charter members, and contract negotiations to bring back SNTA’s well-regarded president, Mitch Burg.

The SNTA board, composed of high-level ad sales reps from most of the major syndicators, is said to be looking to find a new forum in 2006 to hold longer one-on-one meetings with prospective and existing clients.

Board members consider individual sessions to be a more effective and efficient way to deal with clients in a difficult TV ad environment. The existing format consists of a breakfast presentation, followed by a series of short, rotating sessions between advertisers and individual program suppliers, as well as a condensed summit for planners. The day has been capped by a star-studded party in New York.

SNTA members have been frustrated by the reluctance of individual agencies to discuss their specific business strategies with SNTA members under the current round-robin arrangement, which involves sitting in a room along side competitors. “It’s been challenging,” complains one SNTA member.

SNTA Chairman Michael Teicher, executive VP of media sales for Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, issued a brief prepared statement to B&C about a possible change to SNTA Day. “The SNTA and its members are still determining the best forum for meeting with agencies and advertisers prior to the upfront,” he said.

Meanwhile, there is widespread speculation that Tribune’s syndication operation is considering pulling out of SNTA to save money. TEC executives, unavailable last week to comment on the rumors, have built a healthy business in recent years representing other companies’ product for national barter ad sales.

The move to attract outside business and form programming alliances with other studios, which is needed to help fill the programming needs of TEC’s sister Tribune stations, has helped to compensate for the decreasing number of shows being produced in-house. TEC has come under increasing corporate pressure to trim costs, especially since parent Tribune started suffering from downturns in its core broadcast and newspaper operations.

TEC recently formed a programming pact with Sony Pictures Television, which until now has been the lone SNTA holdout among the majors.

The other studios all intend to remain with SNTA for now, despite their increased financial burden if TEC leaves. Their SNTA board members are said to be negotiating a new multi-year deal with Burg, who has been effective as the non-profit’s president.

He joined in January 2004 and will have his current contract expire soon. Burg is seen as having brought more energy to SNTA Day, which began as a stand-alone event in New York in 2003 as a way to promote the value of syndication prior to the start of the critical upfronts. It has picked up momentum each of the past two years, with this past March’s sessions deemed to be a huge success.

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