Skip to main content

Syndicators Try to Keep 'Oprah' Money in Upfront

With Oprah Winfrey winding up her dominant daily show, rival syndicators are looking for ways to grab a share of the advertising dollars the program has attracted during the upfront.

Not all of those dollars will stay in syndication. It’s possible that the overall syndication market will shrink with Oprah out of the picture, says Harry Keeshan, director of national broadcast at media buyer PHD. “I don’t think you replace an Oprah,” Keeshan says. “Each year you talk about new talent coming in and doing talk shows, but that isn’t going to fill that void. That’s just too big of a juggernaut.” Media agency Zenith Optimedia recently forecast that with Oprah’s leaving, syndication revenue will drop 2% to $2.6 billion in 2011 and 8% in 2012.

In some ways, Oprah transcended syndication; some of the money spent to sponsor the show came not from a syndication budget, but from a budget specifi cally dedicated to that program.

“People used the show in different ways, and ways that weren’t necessarily defined by a daypart,” says Jackie Kulesza, senior VP, broadcast activation director at media agency Starcom. “Almost every client is going to have a unique approach to what they do now.”

Kulesza says that while a number of syndicated shows have upgraded their time periods and could see ratings gains with Oprah out of the picture, “all the syndicators want to have something that’s considered to be the next Oprah, but I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all solution there.”

“She’s been such an icon for such a lot time,” notes Bo Argentino, senior VP of advertising and media sales at NBC Universal Television Distribution. “She’s outside of any category, out of syndication or afternoon talk shows. We’ll miss her, but this is a great chance for stations and for advertisers to find new opportunities. It’s a great opportunity for us to get a hold of that money.” Syndicators indeed will try to keep Oprah’s ad dollars within syndication. “You never want to see volume leave your daypart, and I think there’s enough powerful options in syndication that that doesn’t have to happen,” says Judy Kenny, executive VP, ad sales, Twentieth Television.

Howard Levy, executive VP at Disney-ABC Domestic Television, says he doesn’t think syndication will contract. “Oprah going away can easily be counterbalanced by Big Bang Theory coming in. That’s going to be a lot of ratings points at a higher CPM,” says Levy, who will be selling Regis Philbin’s signoff from Live! during the upfront.

“When you consider that we already own daytime’s darling in Ellen, and when you add in Anderson Cooper, it would be hard to believe that we won’t capture some of [the Oprah ad dollars] in daytime,” says Michael Teicher, executive VP-media sales at Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. “But in addition, we believe with the launch of BigBang Theory, we think there’s a third alternative that Warner Bros. offers to capture some of those Oprah dollars.”

At Sony Pictures Television, Amy Carney, president for advertiser sales, notes that the Dr. Oz show has been upgraded into Oprah’s old time slot at 84 stations. “We’re well poised to receive a lot of that Oprah audience, and as a result a lot of Oprah advertising dollars,” she says.

CBS Domestic TV Distribution, which is seeking $1million per spot for Oprah’s farewell epsiode next month, declined to comment on the effects of the show’s end.

Meanwhile, the TV advertising market is hot, and syndicators expect to benefit after a strong scatter market.

According to Kenny, last year syndicators finished their upfront deals very early in a stronger-than-expected market: “All indicators are the market has a similar feel to the last upfront,” she says. “It’s been a very strong scatter market, and historically if [advertisers] pay a high price in scatter, they’re going to put more in the upfront. How strong is the question.”

Syndicators figure that their shows can be an attractive alternative to the broadcast networks and primetime.

With its studio the leading supplier of programming to the broadcast networks, Teicher says Warner Bros. believes in network television. “Having said that, there are some holes in primetime, and we are able to solve some marketers’ problems with high-rated shows that are viewed live so marketers can put out a timely message reaching a large audience in shows like Two and a Half Men and Big Bang Theory.”

“It’s a great vehicle for clients,” says Starcom’s Kulesza of syndication, “but I don’t know that there’s any new news this year that would make a client change in a big way the way they allocate.”

E-mail comments to and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette