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Upfront 2012 - The Syndication Market
Good morning. It's Wednesday, April 18, 2012, and this is your third installment of this special series on this year's Upfront season.
Syndication Upfront 2012:
By Daisy Whitney
With a strong economy and five new talk shows set to debut in the fall, the syndicated business couldn't be in a better position to enter the annual TV upfront. There is a palpable energy around the syndicated programming genre these days and that's a welcome change from the worries and fears that studios faced in the last few years with the exodus of Oprah, the changing face of daytime, and, oh yeah, the troubled economy.
To be sure, the financial crisis and tough labor market are not far in the rear view mirror, and no one in the TV business is counting their chickens before they hatch. But last year's strong upfront followed by a healthy scatter has underscored that the ad market is on the upswing. Add to that five new talk shows debuting in the fall fronted by stars such as Steve Harvey, Ricki Lake, Jeff Probst, Katie Couric and Trisha Goddard, and syndication just might have some of the best buzz of any genre pitching agencies and brands right now.
Strong Market Expected
"The syndication market is sort of a bell weather for the TV economy in general. It should be another very solid year for this end of the business," said Bob Rose, Executive VP of Accounts and Media at Seiter & Miller Advertising. "Syndication is extremely profitable for syndicators and networks, so there is great incentive to aggressively push both existing network hits and to produce first run shows too. With the explosion of TV channels, syndication has had great advances in revenue in the recent past. That should continue in the coming year."
Studios, naturally, expect a good year too.
"The market seems to be moving in a recovery mode and people are trying to capitalize on it," said Howard Levy, Executive VP, Ad Sales at Disney-ABC Domestic Television.
That sense of recovery is leading to an early momentum that's being reflected in conversations and meeting with agencies so far, said Joe Oulvey, Executive VP of Ad Sales at Twentieth Television. "It does appear like it's going to be a solid upfront marketplace. There are good shows out there that will attract some decent money."
Syndication will get a further boost from political spending, added John Nogawski, President of CBS Television Distribution. "We expect a very aggressive upfront. With the election in the fall, there's an influx of political advertisers that creates a sense of urgency and a tight market. We expect advertisers are going to want to commit in the upfront."
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Talk, Talk, Talk
Talk shows will be front and center at studio presentations. Twentieth will tout The Ricki Lake Show, NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution will promote Steve Harvey, ABC-Disney will focus on Katie, and CBS Television Distribution will showcase Jeff Probst. The prevalence of so many new talk shows is creating a buzz among studios, buyers and stations.
"You have all of these new entries fighting it out and there will be additional promotional efforts from every station that airs these shows," Oulvey said, noting that in addition to The Ricki Lake Show, Twentieth will focus on its other newcomer Dish Nation as well as returning hits such as Family Feud and How I Met Your Mother.
ABC-Disney considers Katie a high-profile show that has the backing of the whole company, but the studio will also highlight Kelly Ripa and how she has fared post-Regis Philbin. Ratings for LIVE! with Kelly are up and that's important for a show that lost a major personality.
CBS considers Jeff Probst a high priority at the upfront, and will also spotlight powerhouses Dr. Phil and Judge Judy, often the top-rated show in syndication. NBCU will devote a lot of resources to Steve Harvey's talk show. NBC has another talk show premiering too in Trisha, hosted by Trisha Goddard, and the company also has long-running hits in Maury, Access Hollywood and others.
Warner Bros. Domestic Television is not launching any new shows but will focus on its sophomore talk show Anderson as well as the massive success of Big Bang Theory in syndication and many of its other properties. Michael Teicher, Executive VP of Media Sales at Warner Bros Domestic Television, said that when taking into account its sitcoms and entertainment magazines, its reach can now rival or beat several broadcast networks at more than 8 million adults 18 to 49 on a C3 daily basis. "We are trying to elevate the message to clients and agency partners that we have broadcast scale in a quality environment with reliable ratings all year long," he said.
Bo Argentino, Senior VP of Advertising and Media Sales at NBCUniversal Domestic Television Distribution, added that many syndicated programs offer better than network ratings, and also many have shorter commercial pods.
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Digital and Brand Integration
Digital ad components won't be as central to the studios' pitches as they will for cable networks or broadcasters. But some shows will have digital elements. Ricki Lake has been actively weaving in social media components in her pre-show prep, including streaming live production meetings on Facebook and inviting feedback.
Brand integration is an area that has fared well for syndicators, and look for them to continue to tee up opportunities for marketers this year. "Our first run programs offer great in-show integration opportunities," Argentino said. "We are very close to the productions, we are in originals more weeks than cable or network and can offer far more than just one-offs. Steve Harvey in Daytime for example, starting September 2012, will have brand integrations and most recently, we've had new found success with integrating brands in Access Hollywood and Ah.com for 360 executions. Online, mobile and social have become increasingly important, and no longer afterthoughts."
Nogawski said brand integration will be key for Jeff Probst too. "We've already had a great amount of interest from our clients in doing integrations in Jeff Probst. We came up with three core categories that we felt would blend well into the content of the show, and the reception we got from the major agencies was incredible. We had people seeking us out to see how they could be part of the show," he said.
The Syndicated Network Television Association has said that on average the major syndicated shows are watched live 95% of the time, which makes them attractive to advertisers who are grappling with ad skipping in other venues.
"That is good for the advertisers, and the commercial is being seen in the show as well as the product integration. Even though daytime is a smaller percentage of revenue, it is potentially much more effective," said Mort Marcus, Co-President of Debmar-Mercury.
Auto, Pharma, Retail
Most studios are expecting a strong showing from car makers in the upfront. "The car business has come back on a pretty strong level and as the car business goes, so goes the ad market," said Debmar-Mercury Co-President Ira Bernstein.
Pharmaceutical and retail are also mainstays of syndication and those should spend well this year. Teicher is betting consumer packaged goods will rebound. The category has been hurt some by the movement towards white-label replacements, but he expects renewed momentum from brands this year to protect their market share.
Despite a strong economy, all sellers face the challenge of fragmentation. Marketers have so many choices these days and it's harder but more vital to get the best media mix in front of them, Disney-ABC's Levy said.
Daisy Whitney for Cynopsis
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