Barter system for Col, MCA TV

With the upfront sales season upon them, Columbia Pictures Television Distribution and MCA TV Wednesday announced the formation of in-house barter units.

Both have a large number of firstrun and off-net series in the pipeline and had to decide now whether to farm the projects out or handle the advertising sales themselves.

Although the primary focus of both barter operations will be on in-house-produced product, both Col and MCA are expressing a willingness to take on selective outside projects in the future.

CPTD prez Barry Thurston and MCA TV prez Shelly Schwab said that while they won’t actively seek inventory, they would look to outside possibilities if they are approached.

MCA TV Advertiser Sales will be headquartered in New York under the direction of exec VP David Brenner. Advertising industry exec Karen Zollman, who most recently served as VP of NBC Cable and previously supervised sales for six years at MTV Networks, will head the department as senior VP of advertiser sales.

Columbia Television Advertiser Sales will operate under the direction of senior VP of marketing Bob Cook and Chris Kager, the company’s New York-based VP of advertising sales and marketing.

The new CPTD company will handle all future product starting with “Ricki,” the early fringe Ricki Lake talkshow strip slated to premiere this fall.

The new company will also be charged with developing integrated marketing campaigns. CPTD’s barter advertising inventory for reruns of “Married … With Children” and “Designing Women” will continue to be sold by One World and Tribune Entertainment, respectively.

Trib will also continue to sell inventory for CPTD’s barter movienetworks while Group W will remain the barter agent for “Beakman’s World” until the series moves to CBS this fall.

Col has been weighing its options concerning barter sales of its shows since January, when advertisers started approaching the syndicator to ask how to buy time in “Ricki.”

The program will contain three minutes of advertising inventory per show — enough to sustain a small sales operation.

Although “Ricki” is designed to appeal to the key 18-49 demo — the target audience all talkers covet– Thurston hopes Col can carve out a niche by also appealing to sponsors after the 18-34 audience. The glut of other chat shows look more toward the 50-plus crowd.

Cook and Kager — Col’s liaison to the companies handling its current barter entries — are seeking to hire sales and support staff immediately.

As Col adds inventory, Thurston expects the barter operation to grow. CPTD is set to syndicate shows coming down the pike from Sony’s Col Pix TV, TriStar Television and Merv Griffin Enterprises as well as off-net product from Castle Rock Entertainment, Brillstein-Grey Entertainment and HBO Independent Prods.

Additionally, the company has several firstrun series in development, any of which could come to market for the fall 1994 season.

“We had to make a decision prior to the upfront market,” said Thursron, referring to the initial phase of the fall buying season.

The decision to launch the barter unit “doesn’t indicate anything” about how CPTD will choose to market the much-anticipated off-net entry “Seinfeld,” Thurston said.

The syndie chief said it’s premature to discuss Col’s sales strategy for the comedy program.

In the case of MCA, Schwab said the new company will have a high volume of programming to handle.

The lineup includes the syndicated launches of the “Universal Action Network, ” representing a $ 100 million commitment for the production of 24 original telepix, as well as the off-net episodes of “Northern Exposure,””Coach” and the animated series “Exosquad.”

The launch of MCA TV Advertiser Sales marks the second time the company has had an in-house barter unit. The first go-around came in 1979, when MCA TV became the first major syndicator to form an in-house unit.

In 1989, MCA co-founded Premier Advertising Sales with Paramount, a relationship that Schwab said was “amicably” dissolved late last year.

Par contributed the brunt of the product to the jointly run company, but Schwab said the reason for its pullout stemmed from the management changes at Par.

Premier has continued to represent MCA in national barter sales for such weekly series as “Harry and the Hendersons” and “Roggin’s Heroes,” both of which have ceased production.

Schwab said MCA expects to do a premium business with “Northern Exposure” and “Coach,” which are attracting premium rates on their respective networks.

Schwab said MCA had the option of aligning with another company or taking the series in-house, but noted the “economics dictated that we do it ourselves.”

Syndicators generally pay outside ad sales firms commissions of 5-10% on sales.

MCA will launch the “Action Network” next January and the two off-net series in the fall of ’94.

It is already well into the staffing phase for the new operation. Even prior to Wednesday’s announcement, MCA had been handling the ad sales for “Exosquad.”

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