Syndication Hopes Buyers Will Give It The Time Of Day

With the network upfront expected to head into overdrive after the Memorial Day weekend, syndicated television is making a bid for media buyers' attention in daytime, where network soaps have been perceived as particularly weak.

In general, the syndication market is difficult to view as a monolith in terms of the completion of upfront deal-making, as major syndicators such as King World and Fox's Twentieth Television set their own calendar for deals, said Mitch Burg, president of the Syndicated Network Television Association.

"We do business 52 weeks a year and I think there are a lot of deals being done now," Burg said. "I don't think buyers are just focusing on the major networks."

One place where syndicators are aiming to take on broadcast is in daytime. The recent news for the four major networks in that daypart hasn't been good. For the first quarter of 2005, net advertising revenues were down $7 million (2.86 percent) to $210.9 million compared to the same time period the year before, according to Ernst & Young figures released earlier this month by the Broadcast Cable Financial Management Association.

And as Burg noted, the top-rated shows in daytime are "Dr. Phil," "Judge Judy," and "Maury Povich," with ABC's "General Hospital" at number four. "In addition to new hits like 'Dr. Phil,' shows like 'Oprah' and 'Entertainment Tonight' are still showing high ratings, and these are the shows that lead directly into prime time," Burg said. "And media buyers recognize the value of those shows."

Syndication enjoyed a turnaround a few years ago with the introduction of "Dr. Phil," Burg noted. The SNTA has also been trying to generate interest in what Burg hopes are next fall's new hits, such as a talk show featuring supermodel Tyra Banks, Martha Stewart's new talk show (aside from her additional duties serving as the lead in NBC's spinoff of "The Apprentice"), more court shows such as "Judge Alex," and off-network shows such as Comedy Central's "South Park."

And while NBC Universal's "Jane Pauley" was a notable failure for syndication, Burg attempted to put it in perspective. "There are 46 shows that won't be returning to broadcast," Burg noted. "Meanwhile, we still have 'Friends' and 'Everybody Loves Raymond,' which are still in the top five for adults 18 to 49. We have 820 new episodes, while network has 682 and cable has 398."

But some buyers say that the strong ratings for syndication have stabilized, and that the concentration of dollars is still between cable and network prime. "And since broadcast is seen as doing better than past years, that could take some of the thunder away from syndication, in terms of realizing major increases in price," said one media buyer.

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