Syndie ad sales swing upward

TV syndication ad sales are up sharply from a year ago, much to the relief of sales executives, who endured their worst season ever last year when the market tanked because of the recession.

Gene DeWitt, president of the Syndicated Network Television Association, estimated last week that the syndication upfront market is up 18% in total dollar volume to approximately $2 billion, up from $1.7 billion last year.

Sellers say that, on average, they sold probably 75% of their inventory in the upfront, leaving 25% for potential make-good situations and the scatter market.

That's a dramatic change from last year, when most distributors sold no more than 45% of their available inventory in the upfront. But the haul from this year's upfront still puts syndicators back to around the level they achieved in 2000, when syndication's upfront took in $2.4 billion.

"I would say the syndication guys have to be pretty happy," says Tom DeCabia, executive vice president of New York-based ad-buying firm PHD. "The whole, entire broadcast market is up from last year, and, hopefully, it continues or stays right where it is, because that's good for the business and good for the economy."

Steve Rosenberg, president of Universal Television Enterprises, called this upfront "great, especially compared to last year." This year, he said, "I think both the advertisers and the distributors found a comfortable place for everybody to exist."

Pricing was up across the board in the market, with the average increase said to be in the 6%-7% range, more for top-tier product like Seinfeld
and Everybody LovesRaymond,
which reportedly saw double-digit price hikes.

"The market improved tremendously," said Bob Cesa, president, syndication/cable sales, for Twentieth Television. "We're back to normal conditions." The past two years, he noted, were "way out of whack"—first because of the dotcom explosion (and subsequent implosion), then because of the recession.

Others agree. "It felt like nobody really wanted to kill each other this year," said Steve Mosko, president of Columbia TriStar Domestic Television. "It was more collaborative, and people wanted to do their business and move on."

Hot with buyers were new talk show Dr.Phil
from King World, Pyramid
from Columbia TriStar, That '70s Show
and Dharma& Greg
from Twentieth, and Providence
and She Spies
from MGM/NBC Media Sales.

DeWitt said SNTA members indicated that "the real strength in the market came from advertisers who had been strong in syndication in the past but had cut back last year. So it was kind of a return of the big guys, the packaged goods and the pharmaceuticals."

Chris Kager, president of MGM/NBC Media Sales, the start-up representing 15 syndication programs, was pleased but said daytime is not as robust as it once was.

Mosko agreed: "Daytime is one area that still concerns me. As an industry, we have to do a better job selling it." But he stressed that, improved market aside, Columbia TriStar will continue its "Syndication Works!" campaign.

On the cable front, business slowed for many nets. Large ones, such as Lifetime, MTV, TBS, TNT and USA have closed the bulk of upfront deals.

For everyone else, "it's the difference between a few and a handful of deals," said Fox Cable ad sales chief Bruce Lefkowitz. Smaller and specialty nets are just getting down to business; Food, HGTV, E! and Nat Geo closed deals last week. Several execs think cable's upfront will close by July 4.