Syndie tide. . .b’cast slide

Are reruns bad news for primtime?

Advertisers beware: When reruns of a successful network primetime series hit syndication, ratings for original episodes almost invariably take a nose dive.

That’s the warning from Steve Sternberg, head of research for media buyer Magna Global, who will release his report on syndicated reruns Jan. 17.

Of the 64 primetime series that went into syndication since 1987, the original episodes of 75% of them “suffered immediate audience declines,” says Sternberg.

“Malcolm in the Middle,” for example, plunged 22% in the Nielsens in 2004-05, the season it first went into syndication. In 2000-01, “Sabrina” plummeted 59%.

The two series likely to be on advertisers’ watch lists for 2005-06 are Twentieth TV’s “The Bernie Mac Show” on the Fox Network and Buena Vista TV’s “My Wife & Kids” on ABC. Both start their rerun plays in September.

Nielsen dropoffs are only likely to worsen, says Sternberg, because people don’t make distinctions between a show’s run on broadcast TV, TV syndication or even on a cable network anymore.

“Most network series will lose viewers once the program is syndicated,” Sternberg concludes. “And those few that don’t during their first season probably will the following year.”

One reprieve: When reruns end up mostly in latenight, like “Seinfeld” and “Frazier” did, the slide is less pronounced. That’s because most viewers who watch broadcast primetime are getting ready for bed when 11 p.m. rolls around, so they keep getting their fix from originals, not reruns.