Syndicators Exit Upfront Smelling Like a Rosie

Emmy-winning talk show sets tone for the market’s rich pricing

To the rich go the spoils. “A-list” syndicated series, such as King World’s Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy! and The Oprah Winfrey Show, own the best time-period real estate, allowing them to dominate each upfront ad sales market. Yet syndicators often look to other market leaders to set pricing in the market. At the recently concluded syndication upfront, it was The Rosie O’Donnell Show that joined the A-list club and fueled strong advertiser interest in daytime talk shows after a long lull. Fully acknowledging that the past year was all Rosie, media buyers were well aware that Warner Bros.’ media sales unit was going to be aggressive, but few were prepared for the sticker shock once the market opened.

“You can’t blame Warner Bros. asking for the sky, but I’m not sure if Rosie has fully bloomed yet,” notes one New York media buyer. “That’s the scary part; she has yet to hit her peak. Now all of this talk of Warner Bros. getting 100 percent CPM increases was not far from the truth, but it had every talk show asking for double-digit increases. Rosie has had that kind of effect on the market.”

According to buyers, Warner Bros. came into the market seeking CPMs in the $14-16 range, but there was debate over whether it represented a 60-100 percent increase from the previously estimated $8-10 CPM range. But since Rosie premiered last June, Warner Bros.’ TV station sales arm racked up renewals for next season that place more than 80 percent of its clearances in the more lucrative early fringe (3-6 p.m.) time periods around the country.

With Warner Bros. making projections north of a 5 rating average nationally, Rosie has been estimated to garner $35,000-45,000 per 30-second commercial unit. That places Rosie a commanding yet distant second to Oprah (estimated at $65,000-75,000 per unit), which has been averaging just under a 9 rating.

Two years after the advertiser fallout from “trash TV” talk shows, the turnaround in pricing daytime talk shows was quite stunning, according to buyers and sellers. The so-called “advertiser-friendly” newcomers like Eyemark Entertainment’s Martha Stewart Living and Gayle King fetched double-digit CPMs in the $10-12 range. Twentieth Television’s Home Team With Terry Bradshaw pushed into the $8-10 CPM range thanks to what one buyer credited to “lumping inventory” sales with Twentieth’s eagerly anticipated off-network rollout of The X-Files. While insisting there was no effort to “package” the Home Team units with other shows, Bob Cesa, executive vice president of ad sales for Twentieth, did acknowledge that companion off-network drama NYPD Blue saw its inventory sold with The X-Files as “programming supplemental to prime time.”

The brand-recognized off-network sitcoms again topped the upfront market. Buena Vista Television’s Home Improvement proved again to be the best bet at $120,000-130,000 per unit, followed by Columbia TriStar’s Seinfeld at $100,000-110,000 per national bar-ter unit. Incoming fall sitcoms, such as Paramount’s Frasier and Carsey-Werner’s Grace Under Fire, came in at $100,000 per unit.

“Advertisers’ top priorities are to get broad-based demographics and strong reach, which is something off-net sitcoms guarantee,” says Mike Shaw, executive vice president of Buena Vista Television Advertising Sales.

Posted by on June 2, 1997