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Changing with the times

The economy is affecting the way syndicators go about their business this season.

The major U.S. distributors were down nearly $1 billion during the 2001 upfront season versus 2000, media buyers estimate, and that drop has played a major role in the quick cancellation of nearly a half-dozen first-run strips so far this season. And now, with stations crying poverty over the lack of local advertising dollars, syndicators are being forced to change their strategies to fit the stations' needs.

Heading into the NATPE conference last week, a number of distributors changed their asking price for new and returning syndicated series. On second-year court series Judge Hatchett, for example, Columbia TriStar Domestic Television executives switched from asking for cash and barter to just barter when renewing it for its third season. Telco Productions did likewise on its new We, the Jury
series for the fall.

One syndication president said he had to halve the renewal price of a veteran talk show in a major market. "We were asking for $12,000 a week on it, and they said they could only pay $6,000 and offered to show us their books to prove it," the executive reported. "So we had to take $6,000 a week."

For Judge Hatchett, the move to all barter prompted a number of renewals across the country for the 2002-03 season, including on the Fox owned-and-operated stations. Judge Hatchett
has now been renewed in 19 of the top 20 markets for the fall.

"This move offers us a tremendous opportunity to be responsive to the station marketplace while tapping into advertisers' strong support of the series," says Columbia TriStar Domestic TV Executive Vice President John Weiser. "We were aware that stations liked the show a lot but were facing tougher times."