SNTA: Gang's all here

Eight major syndicators increase funding for association in hopes of boosting presence on Madison Ave.; Columbia balks

The top syndication studios in Hollywood are getting serious about their efforts on Madison Ave.

Coming off an upfront season when syndicators lost an estimated $1 billion in advertising revenue, eight major distributors, including Warner Bros. Domestic TV, King World and Twentieth Television, have opted to put their muscle and money behind a newly revived Syndicated Network Television Association (SNTA).

Columbia TriStar Domestic Television, however, is going to try to make an impression with advertisers on its own and has started a widespread campaign aimed at media buyers.

Insiders say each of the eight syndication studios has agreed to increase its annual dues to $300,000 to raise the profile of SNTA, and, last week, the studios officially hired former Optimedia International Chairman and CEO Gene DeWitt as the new president of the organization. Sources say DeWitt will be paid $500,000 annually to get syndicators a stronger voice with in the advertising community, where they are now competing for dollars in a 500-channel universe.

"We really hope that we will be able to increase the importance of barter syndication sales in the media mix," says Tribune Entertainment President Dick Askin, "because, at this point. we believe that it's being undervalued by some agencies and clients. We intend to correct that."

Askin and other top syndication executives say they will not hold upfront presentations for advertisers in New York this spring but could possibly do so next year if the media buyers respond to the idea.

Although Columbia TriStar isn't joining in, Steve Mosko, its president, is concerned. "We all got lazy when the business was good," he said. "We all were making a lot of money and doing very well, but, when the business this past year went soft, the money wasn't trickling down like it used to. Advertisers had more places to go with their dollars, and I think it became that, if we didn't do something proactively to go sell our business, we were going to be left in the cold."

He's not sure syndicators need a unified face; many cable networks, he notes, schedule individual upfront meetings with advertisers, not elaborate presentations presuming to represent the entire cable business.

Other syndicators, including King World, Warner Bros., Twentieth TV, Paramount, Buena Vista, Tribune and Studios USA, are on board to support SNTA.

Meanwhile, NATPE President Bruce Johansen is planning a meeting with syndicators later this month in Los Angeles to discuss plans for next year's NATPE in New Orleans.

He says NATPE will change the conference-floor design with an eye toward saving money. "It will all be scaled down with very specific cost-containment policies so that a distributor knows exactly what the costs are going to be. They are uniform, and they are nothing like they were in the past."

Last month, more than 50 distributors broke from the NATPE floor in Las Vegas and set up their own mini-conference at the Venetian Hotel. Syndicators claim to have saved millions by avoiding the official NATPE convention floor.