Syndication often gets a bad rap. Chatty hosts, squabbling couples, fractured families and reruns of long-running sitcoms aren't necessarily considered highbrow fare.
But there's much more to the story, says Mitch Burg, president of the Syndicated Network Television Association (SNTA). Syndication represents television's best value for advertisers, Burg says. Many syndicated shows-Judge Judy, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy!, Two and a Half Men, Oprah-boast primetime-size ratings, young demographics and a high percentage of live viewership. And syndication's content ranges from conflict-oriented talk-such as NBCU's Maury, Jerry and Steve Wilkos-to results-focused court, such as Judge Judy and Judge Joe. Oprah, Ellen, Rachael, Regis and Kelly can entertain you, while Drs. Oz, Phil and Stork inform you.
That's the message that Burg and SNTA spent the last year bringing to advertisers, preparing the market for the coming upfront. And Burg has plenty of research to back him. Looking across weekdays, syndicated shows are among the top 10-rated series on television every night of the week. On Fridays, syndication's best day, syndicated series comprise eight of the top 10 shows among adults 18-49, according to Nielsen's C3 ratings.
SNTA has also long made two pertinent points about syndication. First, "people don't have to worry about viewers skipping our commercials," says Burg. "Syndication is still 85% live." Second, syndication "still experiences 75%-plus commercial playback because 80% of our [spots] run in the first commercial minute. If you aren't in the first commercial minute, people don't play back your [spot]. We also show people how they can use that first minute creatively to keep people watching," says Burg.
For example, Twentieth Television has had success selling what it calls exclusive integrated pods, in which one advertiser can buy a full minute and incorporate it with a clip from the program in which the spot is airing. In one case, video game maker 2K Sports took a minute of time in Twentieth's Family Guy to promote its new video game, NBA 2K11. The advertiser called it the "Slam-Dunk Family Guy Moment," and wrapped that sponsorship around a relevant clip from the show in which the animated characters are playing basketball. "You laugh twice watching that segment," says Burg.
In-show product integrations have become increasingly important to syndicators. They work well in syndication because of the high level of trust and engagement that viewers have with these shows' hosts. "Trust and influence is really important to consumers right now-consumers have never been more cynical," says Burg.
SNTA developed a presentation around the trust that syndication's stars engender, backed by research from California-based E-Score. According to E-Score, among adults 18-49, Alex Ferrer, the star of Twentieth's Judge Alex, is the most trustworthy man in daytime, indexing as 150% more trustworthy than the average TV host. Ferrer even outscores Oprah Winfrey, who indexes as 130% more trustworthy than typical.
E-Score and SNTA look at other factors, including whether stars are considered stylish, trendsetting and influential. In the last category, Oprah far outscores the rest, coming in as 345% more influential than other hosts. Second is Ellen DeGeneres, who is considered 155% more influential than average. To do this research, E-Score interviews 1,000 people each week via the Internet, says Burg.
Some may consider Burg and SNTA's research-intensive approach merely public relations, but the group has gotten some real results by bringing new advertisers to syndication. And the syndicators themselves like the results that SNTA achieves. The group's members-CBS Television Distribution, Disney-ABC Domestic Television, MGM Domestic Television, NBCUniversal Television Distribution, Twentieth Television and Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution-recently renewed for another three years.
Most of SNTA's efforts are focused on the months leading up to the upfront, when Burg and his researchers head to the marketplace to talk up the value of syndication, often to advertisers that usually don't buy in syndicated shows. The SNTA's strength, as led by Burg, is its reliance on solid research to make its points. Burg rarely states a fact without a numerical value to back it up.
While SNTA's work may be done for this upfront, the group is currently arming itself with new numbers, prepared to head back out to the field to lay the groundwork for next year. According to Burg, the market's ready to make a big comeback. "Not only is this going to be a high-volume marketplace, but also a fast marketplace," he says. "The economy is bouncing back and marketers have learned the lesson that this is the time to compete for share."