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Upfronts 2013: Shows Tout Best Asset—Stars Themselves

Complete Coverage: Upfronts 2013

Stars of syndicated shows have to be many things: authentic, engaging, hard-working—and funny is a bonus. But one of their most underrated skills is that of salesperson.

It’s something Oprah Winfrey did so effortlessly that audiences almost didn’t notice. Winfrey would recommend a book or a brand, and that item would become an instant hit. “Oprah’s Favorite Things,” one of the series’ highest-rated episodes every season, was essentially a giant sales pitch.

As syndicators prepare for this year’s upfront, one thing they are touting is the advertiser-friendly environments created by their hosts. A big reason viewers tune into any syndicated show is the connection they feel with the host, whether that show is Warner Bros.’ Ellen, Debmar-Mercury’s Family Feud or CBS Television Distribution’s Wheel of Fortune.

“Syndicated programming controls about 70% of the daytime broadcast market, and our hosts offer trust, likeability, believability and influence,” says Mitch Burg, president of the Syndicated Network Television Association (SNTA), a trade group that supports syndicated advertising.

Another plus for syndication is that it’s aimed squarely at women 25-54, and in the majority of cases women are the decision-makers in household spending. According to SNTA, 53% of new-car buyers are women, and nearly 80% of restaurant picks are made by women.

Power of Integration

Most syndicated advertising revenue is still earned with 30-second spots. But brand integration plays a larger part in a syndicated show’s financial success every year—a point of pride at Debmar-Mercury’s Wendy Williams.

“[Williams is] a terrific ambassador when it comes to brand integrations,” says Joe Oulvey, Twentieth’s executive VP of ad sales, which handles sales for Twentieth, Debmar-Mercury and Carsey-Werner. “We had a young lady from Sonic come out on roller skates, interact with Wendy and deliver food to her. Sonic wanted to participate [because] Wendy talks about brands she loves and uses.”

“Wendy is the real deal,” says Ira Bernstein, copresident of Debmar- Mercury. “She relates to women because she’s an everywoman herself.”

Disney-ABC Television’s Katie integrates brands while sticking to the show’s mission of offering helpful information. An integration with Dove featured “women who should be famous” because of their contributions to their communities, says Howard Levy, Disney-ABC executive VP of ad sales. Katie also worked with drug-store chain CVS to educate viewers on how easy it is to get a flu shot, with the show’s host, Katie Couric, getting one on-air.

Disney-ABC’s Live!, which this season added Michael Strahan as Kelly Ripa’s permanent cohost, has fun with its integrations, as when Listerine sponsored a segment with Ripa taking a group of military wives out for a girls’ night in Hollywood during Oscars week.

Networking the Next Frontier

NBCUniversal’s Steve Harvey—the host also helms Family Feud and a nationally syndicated radio show—has been this season’s rookie breakout, and advertisers are noticing. Harvey has done integrations with Planet Fitness and the U.S. Army.

“Season two promises to be a really good build on season one,” says Bo Argentino, senior VP of advertising and media sales for NBCUniversal Domestic Television Distribution. Argentino also works on entertainment magazine Access Hollywood, which attracts brands such as Unilever’s Clear, TJ Maxx, White House/Black Market, Lexus, Microsoft, Old Navy and DSW. Both Harvey and AH are active in social media, which syndicators look at as the next great advertising frontier.

“When you have 17 million Twitter followers, eight million Facebook likes and the 22nd most popular channel on YouTube, I’d say social media is a big part of our strategy for Ellen,” says Michael Teicher, executive VP of media sales for the show’s distributor, Warner Bros. Brand Networks.

Last December, DeGeneres tweeted that fans should meet up at a Walgreens in Milwaukee dressed in an “ugly Christmas sweater” with an unwrapped toy to donate to Toys for Tots. A film crew from the show was on hand, and the show’s star appeared via satellite to dole out $5,000 in giveaways to some 1,200 fans. Ellen also has given away $100 gift cards to Walgreens—long a sponsor of the show—via Twitter.

Warner Bros. has high hopes for its next talk-show star, Bethenny Frankel, whose series premieres this fall. “She’s been such a brand-builder herself, with products she has created and marketed,” says Teicher.

While syndication may not be TV’s most glamorous daypart, it may be the most reliable. “I sometimes feel syndication is the good boyfriend who’s always there for you but doesn’t get the appreciation,” says one syndication exec. “Day in and day out, we are doing great things.”

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