Syndicators Prep to Shop New Shows to Sponsors

Why This Matters: As the media market increasingly fragments, syndication is the rare place where advertisers can find stability, security and reach.

In the coming upfront season, media buyers have more new shows to focus on in syndication than they have in years, including several big new shows starring Kelly Clarkson, Tamron Hall and Meredith Vieira.

Each syndicator is approaching the ad market in their own way, especially as things change both for viewers, with more and more streaming video and game services coming online to steal their attention, and for distributors, who are seeing consolidation continue at companies such as The Walt Disney Co., which finally closed its Fox asset deal and is integrating the properties, and AT&T, which absorbed Time Warner, now called WarnerMedia.

Coming this fall are NBCUniversal’s The Kelly Clarkson Show, starring American Idol and The Voice star Clarkson, as well as Judge Jerry, starring Jerry Springer. Both are fully cleared. Disney has new talker Tamron Hall, also cleared nationally. Fox has game show 25 Words or Less starring Meredith Vieira. Sony and Tribune are partnering on new talker starring life coach and motivational speaker Mel Robbins. And other shows, such as Jerry O’Connell’s new talker, will be tested over the coming year.

For executives charged with selling advertising in these new shows, it can be tricky to strike a balance. Sponsors tend to be wary about jumping into new shows before they see what they look like, and that goes double for branded integrations. Ad sales executives are looking for high costs-per-thousands (CPMs) for premium daytime shows, which is how NBCU and Disney are pitching Kelly Clarkson and Tamron Hall, respectively, even though they don’t yet know what the shows’ ratings will be.

“Kelly is very attractive to advertisers, in particular because of a few key attributes that she brings,” said Bo Argentino, senior VP, advertising and media sales, NBCUniversal Domestic Television Distribution. “She is family friendly, she’s a young mom and a stepmom and she’s a big social media participant and user. She’s an influencer and that’s really key these days. Advertisers and brands want their commercials to be extended into social and digital spaces.”

Disney “is looking to secure season-long integration partnerships for Tamron Hall with consumer packaged goods, technology and telecom, auto, financial services and travel, among other categories, as well as securing strategic integrations that focus on a brand’s launch and objectives,” Disney Advertising Sales VP Mark Olsen said.

To some extent, having a well-known talent in an as-yet-unknown show can be an advantage in the ad-sales market, said Ira Bernstein, co-president of Lionsgate-owned Debmar-Mercury, which doesn’t have a new national show launching this fall but does have tests, season two of off-YouTube court show Caught in Providence, Wendy Williams and Family Feud.

“Historically, advertisers take a wait-and-see attitude toward new shows,” Bernstein said. “Sellers generally end up selling 30% to 40% of their inventory in the upfronts at a good price and a high rating. If the rating comes true, that means the show was a success and they got a good price, and will sell the rest of the inventory in scatter. If the rating doesn’t come to fruition, then the show is likely failing, and they have room to offer advertisers make-goods.

“I think that both the good and bad news about syndication is that it’s so established, so entrenched and highly projectable,” he continued. “All of the big shows run five days a week and have for years. One of syndication’s key attributes is that it’s live — 95% of syndication delivers 95% live.”

Warner Bros. recently worked with Barry Schwartz, an emeritus professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, to study the effect of choice. Too much of it can paralyze viewers, Schwartz found, causing them to avoid watching anything at all. With the coming influx of streaming services, syndication is a place where viewers can consistently find content with which they are intimately familiar, John O’Hara, executive VP of WarnerMedia Brand Networks, said.

“If you think about it, that’s really the essence of the syndication platform,” O’Hara said. “These are hit shows that are successful and people are comfortable with them and they turn to them night after night. We are able to offer [advertisers] vast reach for these shows, with best-in-class content that viewers and consumers rely on and turn to again and again.”

Inventory Uncertainty at Upfront

Headed into this year’s upfront, sellers and buyers face uncertainty. No one knows how the coming streaming services — Disney+, WarnerMedia’s offering and now Apple TV+ — will further disrupt the traditional, linear TV business. Moreover, these new services don’t plan to offer advertising, so it could actually mean less overall TV inventory and less eyeballs on those ads. “The biggest five guys in the TV streaming business don’t have advertising,” Bernstein said. “If I’m an advertiser, I’m a little bit scared. I think it’s going to be a good upfront but, generally, the pendulum swings back and forth between the upfront and scatter markets.”

This year, many hope that the pendulum will swing to syndication’s side, considering it offers value and reach, something no other platform does nearly as efficiently. With cord-cutting, cable’s reach has declined to below 80% of the U.S. across the board, making linear broadcast TV the only platform that can claim national reach.

The pitch is easy to make for established shows like Warner’s Ellen, on the air for 16 seasons and almost universally known. It’s harder for new shows. But Clarkson, Hall and Vieira are all well-known names, and that helps sell them.

“With on-demand, DVR-delayed viewing, fragmented viewing across multiple devices, and apps and platforms on the rise, syndication offers a safe space for advertisers — and it shows with all the interest from our clients,” Disney’s Olsen said. “Syndication has a loyal base of fans, and advertisers can focus on specific programs with more targeted messaging.”

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.