Syndication's Early Upfront

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Syndicators hope to move their upfront ad-sales market, or the bulk of it anyway, four months earlier. It's not a coincidence. That schedule would coincide with the Syndicated Network Television Association's first annual conference, Feb. 25-26 at the New York Sheraton.

It will be a sales conference in the literal sense, says SNTA President Gene DeWitt. "We will look to sell out a lot of the upcoming broadcast year's inventory at the conference," he says. "Our inventory is so limited it really makes sense to lock it up first."

This year, the syndication upfront market moved in June, after the broadcast networks', and rose 15% to roughly $2 billion.

Indeed, most of the two-day affair at the show is being set aside for one-on-one meetings between buyers and sellers. It will open with a general-session presentation, keynote speaker and panel on new trends. Currently, DeWitt expects attendance to total 800 or so buyers and sellers.

Syndication ad sales are better this year than last. The scatter market is way up. Bo Argentino, executive vice president, advertiser sales, Sony Pictures Television, says the company is getting double-digit price increases over the upfront. "We're really seeing across-the-board growth" in terms of ad categories, she says.

Ad-tracking services CMR and Nielsen Monitor-Plus have just reported nine-month sales figures for syndication. CMR put the tally at $2.1 billion, down 12%. Monitor-Plus showed a slightly smaller decline (-9%). But grim as those figurers are, the trend is in the right direction: Last year, the business was down between 25% and 30%.

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