Syndication upfront market 'robust'

CBS TV leads the way as total take may top $2.4 bil

The TV syndication upfront marketplace has all but wrapped up, with giant CBS Television Distribution, which controls about 50% of total syndicated programming inventory, completing its last major deal with media-agency conglomerate GroupM.

Some were speculating that syndicators might have taken in even more than the $2.4 billion total previously projected.

"This was a robust market," one syndication sales executive said. "Demand was strong. There was more dollar volume than last year, and the top 25 shows in syndication got the same cost-per-thousand rate increases the top broadcast primetime shows got."

CBSTD averaged CPM increases in the 6%-7% range for all of its programming, with such higher-end inventory as "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "Dr. Phil," "Judge Judy," "Entertainment Tonight" and "Rachael Ray" averaging 7%-9% hikes.

Game shows "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!" averaged gains of 6%-7%, while off-net sitcoms "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Frasier" and celebrity entertainment shows "The Insider" and "Inside Edition" averaged 5%-6% hikes.

New talk show entry "The Doctors," a "Dr. Phil" spinoff, was initially a slow sell because CBSTD held firm with its original opening price and wouldn't budge, sources familiar with the negotiations said. But eventually, the syndicator was able to get pricing that was 20% higher than some agencies' initial offers and enjoyed strong sellout levels.

The upfront negotiations took place and wrapped over a two-week period for most syndicators, much like the broadcast network marketplace. One syndication executive said rate hikes negotiated at the beginning of the syndication upfront mirrored increases recorded late last week.

"The agencies clearly came in and were trying to get flat pricing compared to last year, but they realized early on that we were not going to do that and some of them cut some early deals," one sales executive said. "Once those initial deals were done, the marketplace pricing was set."

Much like the case of the broadcast negotiations, syndication sales executives said that because media agencies have consolidated and, therefore, become so large, it was difficult for any player to walk away rather than pay what they might have believed to be higher than expected pricing.

"None of the agencies can buy around the big syndicators," one sales executive said.

Said another syndication sales exec, "The agencies came into the negotiations aggressively, but we drew a line in the sand, and they eventually capitulated."

Besides "Oprah," "Dr. Phil" and "Doctors," there also was strong interest in other morning and daytime talk shows. They include Disney-ABC Domestic Television's "Live With Regis and Kelly," Twentieth Television's "The Morning Show With Mike and Juliet," Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution's "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and the syndicator's new entry this season, "The Bonnie Hunt Show."

Meanwhile, NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution picked up strong interest in its new half-hour off-network version of "Deal or No Deal," while the new game show "Trivial Pursuit" sold well for 20th Television.

NBC Uni also drew robust buyer interest and solid pricing for off-net Fox drama "House," in syndication for the first time.