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Syndie org cancels prez

DeWitt the odd man out after firing

For Gene DeWitt, fired on Aug. 1 after 15 months as president of the Syndicated Network TV Assn., the problem boiled down to a near-impossible task: taking orders from eight bosses, often with eight different agendas.

The bosses are the members of the SNTA, made up of the New York-based execs whose job is to sell the national-advertising time on syndicated TV shows distributed by the likes of Disney’s Buena Vista, News Corp.’s Twentieth TV, Vivendi’s Universal Domestic TV, AOL TW’s Warner Bros. Domestic TV and Viacom’s King World and Paramount — all fierce competitors with each other.

“You not only have the eight people in New York but the eight bigger executives in L.A. that they report to,” said DeWitt in a telephone interview. “And they all had their own ideas of what I should do in the job. I would’ve whirled myself to death trying to please all of them.”

Distributors contacted to comment on the firing declined to do so.

Rumors surfaced a few months ago that DeWitt was not getting along with Marc Hirsch, head of advertiser services for Paramount TV.

But DeWitt thought he’d weathered the strain after getting favorable press reports on the SNTA’s first ad sales presentation to New York media buyers in late February.

And, DeWitt maintains, TV syndication is on a roll since he joined SNTA, pocketing a 15% increase in upfront advertising dollars in 2002 and another 17% in 2003. “CMR projections show that syndication will grow faster than network TV this year,” he said.

DeWitt spent his 37-year pre-SNTA career as an ad-agency exec with such Madison Avenue operations as Ogilvy & Mather and BBDO before founding his own company DeWitt Media, which eventually morphed into Optimedia Intl.

DeWitt felt discomfort at the SNTA based on an industry fact of life: Syndication companies are always jousting with the ad agencies to wring more money out of them for 30-second spots, leading inexorably to adversarial tension.

Since DeWitt came out of the ad community, he said, he got the impression he would always be considered an outsider at the org. SNTA fired DeWitt even though he still has a year and a half to go on his contract. A statement by SNTA said, in part, that DeWitt “is no longer with the organization…a search for his replacement will commence immediately.” SNTA had no comment beyond that announcement.