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SNTA Trumpets Gains

Nationally syndicated shows are on a ratings roll. So goes the latest sales pitch from the Syndicated Network Television Association. The group, which represents sales interests of syndication producers and distributors, says household ratings for syndicated shows were up 5.2% during the October 2004-January 2005 period compared with the same stretch a year earlier.

Syndicators are trying to build on last year's stellar performance, a $3.9 billion tally—up 16% from 2003. Early 2005 projections call for low single-digit growth. In addition to traditional ad sales, syndicators are pumping up integrated product deals like The Oprah Winfrey Show's famous Pontiac car giveaway.

One notion that sellers want to hammer home: They can make quick changes to ad orders. Syndicators have battled a perception that they can't swiftly swap out commercials. “We can make changes in two to three days, just like networks and cable,” says SNTA President Mitch Burg.

A second: Syndicated shows are hot. “We are doing great first-run original programming—and a lot of it,” Burg says.

Returning favorites are fueling the growth, with eight standouts—including The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Oprah, JudgeMathis and Jeopardy!—posting double-digit increases. But broadcast-network daytime is suffering, per SNTA. While several daytime syndicated shows were up, Burg notes, network soap operas dropped 4.2% in household ratings.

The SNTA cheerleading comes just as the organization kicks off its road show; syndicators began presenting to advertisers last week in New York. Among the stars expected at last Thursday's glitzy New York SNTA after-party: talk hosts Regis Philbin, Ellen DeGeneres and Maury Povich, plus Fox stars Bernie Mac and Kiefer Sutherland. The Bernie Mac Show and Sutherland's high-octane drama 24 are among the off-net series hitting syndication next fall.

On March 21, SNTA will hold a similar presentation in Chicago and again in Los Angeles on March 24.

So far this year, only four new first-run shows (Tyra Banks', Martha Stewart's, Judge Alex and the new Current Affair) are sure bets to make it to market, the lowest total in recent years.

Burg isn't worried. “We have such strength coming back, it is good we only have four new shows,” he says. “Eight to 10 shows would just fragment the audience more.”