Mitch Burg's Youth Movement

SNTA's growing up, but it's certainly not thinking old. In its second upfront conference, the Syndicated Network Television Association will aggressively sell the youth of its audiences.

The association, funded by major syndicators, will hold three gatherings: in New York on March 11, in Chicago March 15-16, and in Los Angeles March 18.

In New York and Los Angeles, the SNTA members—20th Century Fox, Buena Vista, King World, Paramount, Tribune, Universal, and Warner Bros.—will make their presentations to buyers in hotels. In Chicago, following a breakfast meeting, they will go from agency to agency, making individual programming presentations.

MGM/NBC will participate as a non-member, says the group's new president, Mitch Burg.

Together, the SNTA member companies account for approximately 80% of all syndication dollars.

Only Sony, the other major player in syndication, "has made the decision not to join us this year," says Burg, an advertising veteran who replaced Gene DeWitt as SNTA's leader. The syndicator thinks it does better with its personalized presentations than going with the SNTA gang; it also stayed away last year.

But Sony did host a big party in New York the night preceding SNTA's gala. This year, the syndicator has no plan to repeat that event but is mulling some sort of get-together. Nothing was firm about time or place at deadline, however.

"It would be a better organization with them in," Howard Levy, the organization's chairman and the executive vice president, ad sales, for Buena Vista Television, says of Sony and MGM/NBC, the two SNTA holdouts. "They would also reap a huge benefit. But I don't think it's 'critical'" for them to join.

One difference at the New York SNTA conference this year is that some first-run and other stars are expected to make NATPE-style appearances at the closing evening party, according to organizers. No names were confirmed by press time.

Another difference will be the sales pitch. Last year, it was directed squarely at Madison Avenue's young planners, who, SNTA believes, often don't realize when they're watching syndicated programming.

This year, Burg says, instead of just talking to young adults on Madison Avenue, SNTA will be talking to planners and buyers about young adults. According to the group, syndication attracts about 50% more of those demos than the six broadcast nets.

"I'm going to talk about demography, I'm going to talk about reach, I'm going to talk about cost-effectiveness," Burg says. "I'm going to talk about quality programming."

When people are asked about their favorite TV personalities, he contends, seven of the top 10 cited are in syndication.

As for the age issue, the market skews on average nine years younger than the broadcast networks. Its median age is frequently in the 30s or early 40s, Burg says, depending on the genre.

In dramas, the media age is 9.2 years younger; in sitcoms, 8 years younger, according to SNTA data.

Syndication's late-night dating and game shows have a younger median age than network late-night talk (by 11.2 years). And its daytime talk shows attract younger folks than the network soaps (by 3.2 years), according to the organization.

Heading into the SNTA conference, syndication can tout a 12% increase in gross ratings points sold in adults 18-49, as well as double-digit revenue increases, from 2002 to 2003. "One of the reasons the money is up is that the ratings points are up, says Levy. "It's pretty simple."

This year, the SNTA pitch to buyers should be about stability, at least according to one major buyer. In syndication, "there's not the volatility that we experience in broadcast television in prime time," said Optimedia International's Bob Flood, a veteran syndication buyer.

SNTA should point out the "wide swings" in network ratings, the issues of network preemptions and make-goods, and the fact that "50% of the [networks'] schedule changes by Jan. 1," he says.

The value of the organization to its members is pretty simple as well. "It's critical that we have an SNTA that's out there promoting the voice of syndication," Levy says. If the organization succeeds in educating the buyers to syndication's overall value, the "pool of dollars" that individual syndicators can compete for will grow, too.

At the end of the day, "you are your product," says Levy. "The challenge is to get the message out."

In addition to reach and frequency, Burg, who in 1994 was one of the founders of WPP Group buying firm The Media Edge, talks about "allocation of dollars and targeting. Those are factors that resonate with both planners and buyers as well.

"When people talk about the need to reexamine how they spend their TV dollars," he adds, "that's not news. Everybody should be doing that every year."

The good news for syndication is that the industry has nine shows with double-digit ratings growth this year.

"The networks," he boasts, "would be fairly hard pressed to find that many."