Turner to sell ‘ER’ time on both TNT and syndie

Ad strategy could bring $400,000 per episode

NEW YORK — Turner Broadcasting has drawn up the blueprint for the sale of advertising time on “ER” that could change the rules of the rerun marketplace — and harvest as much as $70 million over the next seven years from weekend syndication alone.

“We’re going to be setting precedents in the way we sell the time on ‘ER,’ the way we price it and the seamless packaging of the spots that’ll run on TNT during the week and on TV stations throughout the country on Saturday and Sunday,” said Steve Heyer, president and chief operating officer of Turner Broad-casting System.

A number of rerun series –Twentieth TV’s “The X-Files” on the FX network, Columbia TriStar’s “Walker, Texas Ranger” on USA and Twentieth’s “NYPD Blue,” also on FX — are playing simultaneously in cable and in off-network syndication. But in each of these instances, the cable network sells its own advertising time, and the distributor’s media sales force sells the national barter minutes on TV stations in syndication.

Heyer said that with “ER” (which is produced by Turner’s sister company Warner Bros. TV) one entity — Turner Broadcasting Sales — will for the first time sell advertising time on both TNT during the week and on TV stations in weekend syndication when the reruns kick off in the fall.

Various sources said the reason Turner is breaking the mold is that it agreed to pay a record $1.2 million an episode when “ER” first came up for bids early in 1996. The $1.2 million is the figure Warner Bros. will use to compute the profits to be funneled to Steven Spielberg, Michael Crichton and the other profit participants.

$400,000 per episode?

But for the first time the cable network will get to keep the revenues from the sale of the time to advertisers in rerun syndication. The most commonly reported projection is that these revenues will bring in about $400,000 an episode over the syndication life of “ER” in the first cycle, which should go for seven years. Because NBC has committed to “ER” in firstrun for at least seven years, which will yield about 168 episodes, the potential syndication gross will come in at $67.2 million.

Turner revealed that TNT will strip “ER” at 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, adding two episodes every week at 8 and 9 p.m. Thursday leading in to the original hours on NBC at 10 p.m.

Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution has cleared the syndicated “ER” repeats in 92% of the U.S., covering TV stations in all of the top 100 markets. “ER” stations include KCAL Los Angeles, WABC New York, WPWR Chicago, WPSG Philadelphia, KGO San Francisco, WCVB Boston and WJLA Washington.

Eye on exclusivity

With Turner engineering all of the selling, Heyer said he’ll be able to negotiate product exclusivity with advertisers eager to lock out their competitors across TNT and syndication. But he quickly added that Turner has made no decision on exclusivity.

Turner will get seven minutes of advertising time within each hour of the weekend syndication “ER” and 7-1/2 minutes in each of the runs on TNT. The TNT deal is for seven years, and the first cycle of syndication covers two years, with Warner Bros. holding the options for renewal of the show with TV stations.

Steve Sternberg, a partner in the BJK&E Media Group, said the tying together of cable and syndication is “a fascinating concept, and Turner will show its confidence by being aggressive in selling it.”

But there’s no guarantee that the Nielsen success of “ER” on NBC will carry over into the reruns in cable and syndication, Sternberg said. “General dramas,” he said, “haven’t done all that well in reruns in the past,” with poor Nielsen track records for the reruns of such shows as “Dallas,” “Dynasty” and “Hill Street Blues.”

But Turner’s response is that “ER” is less episodic than most primetime soaps and better able to work on a standalone basis.

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