“Bo” Knows the Upfront Market

The syndication upfront market is expected to finish with an increase over last year's $2.4 billion haul (up to 5%, according to some analysts). While the new C3 metric (average commercial ratings with three days of DVR) was a mixed bag for broadcast and cable, syndication was mostly immune from the effects since it holds on to an impressive number of viewers during commercial breaks. As NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution's senior VP for advertising and media sales, Barbara “Bo” Argentino oversees ad sales for the company's first-run syndication slate. She spoke with B&C's Marisa Guthrie about the market, the enduring popularity of Access Hollywood and game shows, and the importance of digital spinoffs.

The new C3 metric caused much hand-wringing, but syndication has some of the highest viewer-retention rates in the business. So, I imagine it wasn't an issue for you.

You're 100% correct; it really wasn't an issue. It was even an opportunity because our numbers don't fall off. So we went with what the network did, which were commercial ratings [with DVR playback], or C3. Just about every deal was done on that. There were a couple of advertisers that were looking for an exception. And that wasn't a problem either.

We had conversations with all of our agencies and clients well before the upfront and let them know what our position was. At the 11th hour, there were one or two people who said, “If you're not suffering any kind of an adjustment, then we don't want to pay the same increases.” And we were like, “Well that doesn't really make sense,” and they dropped it.

In the past, advertisers have had issues with the content on The Jerry Springer Show and Maury. Did these problems come up with Springer spinoff The Steve Wilkos Show?

There's a very healthy list of advertisers who are looking for shows that reach that audience. We don't have any trouble selling [Springer and Maury]. Steve has a very unique character and personality. We look forward to people discovering him and taking advantage of his different perspective.

You're bringing out the new Merv Griffin game show Let's Play Crosswords. Does the primetime popularity of game shows help the genre in daytime?

[Game shows are] as advertiser-friendly reality as you can get. We can also do some fun integration there. It really does bode well for not just daytime or early fringe but the future of the genre, because we're seeing some really creative games coming into the market place. I think it's bringing new viewers. You see younger people exposed to game shows and families viewing them together in primetime. And that's a good thing for syndication, whenever shows are on both network and syndication it tends to lift the viewing for both.

Access Hollywood sold particularly well this year. How important are the show's online components, www.accesshollywood.com and omg.yahoo.com?

It's an enrichment for the viewer because they can get more detail when they go online. The site and the photo galleries and the streaming video are a great opportunity to take advertisers to another platform. The Yahoo! partnership is a great opportunity to get more people to the site. Advertisers have responded very favorably to the cross-platform sell. We have a number of deals with digital included as part of the upfront. We also have sponsorship deals in place. We went to Cannes [Film Festival] this year, and we got that sponsored. We're going forward with coverage of the Beijing Olympics in Access Hollywood so that's a way we're working with advertisers and the network and online. Access Hollywood is just a great property.

Digital was a value-added component in the past. When did it change?

Yes, in the past, value-added has been the way that people looked at sites but not for Access Hollywood. There's too much value there. We were looking to get paid for it in the last upfront. When you have a site like this one, nothing's free, or even remotely close. And they're happy to pay for it, by the way.