Staving off extinction

Independent syndicators are a dying breed. But two survivors—MG Perin and BKS—have entered into a unique agreement to try to forestall extinction.

BKS and Perin have agreed to combine their sales forces into a single unit that will sell the shows of both companies, which will remain separate for now. The parties describe the arrangement as something less formal than a joint-operating agreement but say a merger is possible if this first step works to their mutual benefit. Industry observers say it's the kind of move other boutiques will have to consider if they want to escape the bone pile.

"It's sort of like an engagement," says Dick Perin, CEO of MG Perin Inc. But, he adds, there's no date set for the wedding.

Executives at both companies have run small but well-known syndication companies for decades. Perin co-founded MG Perin in 1976 with partner Marvin Grieve, who retired last year. Recent offerings from the company include reality show Coast Guard, WOW: The Women of Wrestling and The Extraordinary, with host Corbin Bernsen.

Len Koch and Bob Silberberg are partners in BKS Entertainment, which started in 1995 as a joint venture with ad agency Bates USA; Bates was bought out in 1999. In 1970, Koch had founded boutique syndicator Syndicast and run it for nearly 20 years.

Between network sales stints, Silberberg had been on the agency side of syndication, including a hitch with Bates before joining BKS. Recent BKS projects include Superstars on Tour, a series of music specials and film packages comprising such titles as The Mambo Kings and Shaft's Big Score.

"We have to find ways to cut costs in order to function," says Perin. "We got killed in the last three quarters. The market just fell apart."

So the two companies have agreed to use one sales department, with Joe Weber based in Los Angeles, Bob Greenstein in Miami and David Steinfeld in New York. Weber was with Perin; the other two, with BKS. Three other members of the department were let go.

Bill Carroll, vice president of programming, Katz Television, believes the move makes sense, especially in the current soft market and when major syndicators are merging. "When you look at the expense of going out and selling," he says, "I'm not surprised that boutique companies would find alliances like this in order to survive." He predicts that other independents may follow suit: "If you have to be in the market and you're going to be in front of the same people, why not make one trip instead of two?"

Silberberg says, "This is about preparing for the way business is being done now. We're not going to stop what's happening in this business."

Although the two companies aren't ready for a full merger yet, they will share a booth if they decide to go to the NATPE conference next year. But that's a big if. At the latest conference four months ago, many of their station clients simply weren't there. "A lot of exhibitors have great trepidation about going to NATPE," Koch says. "The world is different now."