Syndies snowball

Upfront ad sales steadily gain momentum

The $2 billion syndication upfront advertising sales market began to snowball Wednesday, with distribs reporting healthy, if unspectacular, rate increases over last year.

National syndie ad revenue for 1998 is projected to hit $2.05 billion, up 5% from last year, according to estimates compiled by the Advertiser Syndicated Television Assn.

Media buying agencies commit billions of dollars in advertising time for the coming season during the so-called spring upfronts. Networks and syndie distribs typically sell about 80% of their inventory in advance, reserving a small portion of the time for “scatter” sales during the season. The frenzy of upfront buying and selling revolves around the fall sked unveilings of the major broadcast webs, which will take place in Gotham next week.

MCI calls early

On the syndication front, aggressive overtures by telco giant MCI Communications are said to have kicked off the ad sales frenzy earlier this week. MCI is reportedly spending more money on syndie shows than in past years, although reps for the telco’s buying agency, SFM Media, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

“Pricing is in the low single-digit increases,” said Chuck Bachrach, exec VP of ad agency Rubin Postaer & Associates. “It’s smart (of syndie distribs) to jump in now and get what they can,” before the big-gun advertisers turn their attention next week to the network primetime market.

Rates inch upward

As of late Wednesday, sellers were reporting rate increases in the 2% to 10% range, depending on the show. Most projected the bulk of the advance sales would be wrapped up by the end of this week.

“We saw a lot of movement earlier in the week, before you know it we had to call some of our incumbent (advertisers in existing shows) and tell them that if they don’t place orders now, we’re not sure what we’ll have left to sell you,” said Bob Cesa, exec VP of advertising sales for Fox’s Twentieth TV.

There had been some concern in the biz that the lackluster kids upfront market, which broke last month, was a harbinger of an overall depressed TV ad market. But the robust advance syndie sales indicate otherwise, according to Dan Cosgrove, president of Eyemark Media Sales.

“The kids market is the kids market,” he said, noting that downturns in kidvid sales were the result of inflated pricing the previous year. “It was a correction year for that market, but the adult market is an entirely different situation.”

Cosgrove said Eyemark was “going gangbusters” with advance ad sales of the new Howard Stern latenight vehicle, set to bow Aug. 22. Other summer and fall newcomers were also said to be finding ready takers.

Among the high-profile new shows posting brisk business were King World’s “The Roseanne Show” and “Hollywood Squares”; Twentieth TV’s “The Magic Hour”; Paramount’s “The Howie Mandel Show”; Columbia TriStar’s “Donny & Marie”; Rysher Entertainment’s “Judge Mills Lane” and Worldvision’s “Judge Joe Brown.”

Buyers reported that syndie sensation “Jerry Springer” was not realizing the kind of triple-digit rate increases his ballooning ratings would seem to warrant, because the content of his risque show remains a turnoff to big-ticket advertisers. Sources said “Springer” was picking up more business from Hollywood’s majors looking to lure young adults to films on opening weekends.

Worldvision’s “Judge Judy,” the other syndie success story of the past season, has been netting nearly 50% rate increases, thanks to strong ratings growth and timeslot upgrades, according to Gary Montanus, Worldvision’s senior VP of worldwide marketing.