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990104eme

INCREASINGLY, SYNDICATORS PRESS FOR MORE BARTER TIME


Posted 01-12-99

Electronic Media
01/04/99
By Page A1
Non-Xena graphic

COMMENTARY
Mentions XENA and HERCULES as examples of shows which use a eight minute national/six minute local advertisement split.

EXCERPT

PRIMARY SOURCE

   Facing increasing production costs, decreasing international
sales and declining ratings at home, more syndicators are looking to retain an
added minute of barter time in their weekly hours.

   Of the new syndicated hours to hit the marketplace this year, only one -- New
Line Television's ''The Lost World'' -- is being sold on an even barter basis
with a seven-minute national/seven-minute local split.

   All the other series to make their way to the rep firms have presented
marketing plans calling for an eight-minute national/six-minute local split,
including Eyemark Entertainment's ''Peter Benchley's Amazon,'' Paramount
Domestic Television's ''Avalon: Adventures of the Abyss,'' PolyGram Television's
''Total Recall 2070,'' Tribune Entertainment's ''Beastmaster,'' BKS/Bates
Entertainment's ''Dream Team'' and Rysher Entertainment's untitled Tia Carrere
project.

   And while those terms can ultimately change -- depending largely on the basic
deal or deals needed to get the show into New York, Los Angeles and Chicago --
it is apparent that distributors are increasingly looking to pick up added
revenue in an effort to keep such shows financially viable.  

   The drive behind syndicators looking for that extra minute of barter time is
simple: Depending on a show's rating, that minute could mean up to an additional
$1 million a year in revenue for a project.

   ''For most of these shows, there's not going to be a significant back-end, so
syndicators have to get what they can up front,'' says Bill Carroll, vice
president and director of programming for the Katz Television Group station rep
firm.

   But there's a potential down side as well, as stations may be less likely to
pick up a series if they have to give up an added minute of ad time an episode.

   Says one top station group executive who asked not to be identified, ''It's
like the syndicator coming to you and asking for money.''

   That, in turn, may land the series in weaker time periods where stations have
less to lose by giving up the added minute or even on a weaker station in a
given market, sources say.

   ''There's so much competition for those time periods that taking that extra
minute of barter is a tough sell,'' says Chuck Larsen, a distribution consultant
who heads October Moon Television. ''It's a dangerous tradeoff.''

   Ups and downs

   The typical barter split on such syndicated hours has never been set in stone
and seems to fluctuate readily with market conditions.

   Syndication watchers point out that in the late 1980s, when first-run
syndicated hours were few, distributors generally took more advertising time
than the stations did. The reason? The high production costs needed to deliver
the series required it.

   But as more syndicated action hours entered the marketplace, syndicators
began offering an even seven barter split in order to undercut the competition
that was looking for an eight/six split or in some cases, a nine/five split.

   Soon, such a seven/seven split became commonplace -- although by no means
exclusive.

   For the 1998 season, a host of new first-run projects carry with them a
seven/seven split, among them ''Mortal Kombat: Crusades,'' ''The Crow,''
''Motown Live,'' ''One World Music Beat,'' ''The New Adventures of Robin Hood,''
''Stargate SG-1,'' ''Acapulco H.E.A.T'' and ''V.I.P.'' Other current series with
a seven/seven split include ''Pensacola: Wings of Gold,'' ''Psi Factor,'' ''Wild
Things'' and ''Poltergeist.''

   The eight/six split is not uncommon either, attached to such freshmen series
as ''Air America'' and ''Highlander: The Raven,'' and returning series including
''Xena'' and ''Hercules.''

   ''As the economies are getting tougher, things are evolving back to the
eight/six split,'' Mr. Larsen says.

   Feeling the pinch

   And stations are standing up and taking notice.

   Station executives say they already feel the pinch of syndicators looking to
get double runs out of their syndicated hours, while the number of episodes
delivered has steadily fallen from 26 per season to 22.

   And while they say they understand the need to give up the added minute of
barter in special-effects laden shows with $1 million-plus production budgets
such as ''Hercules'' and ''Xena,'' syndicators are now trying to take the added
minute in just about everything they bring to market.

   ''It's a complicated issue,'' says Rick Feldman, vice president, general
manager, KCOP-TV, Los Angeles. ''A lot of it has to do with the economies of
producing the show, and on our end, you really don't know what those economies
are. But we don't like an eight/six split. We don't like giving up an extra
minute of inventory.''

   Syndicators say they are trying to make an honest buck in an increasingly
difficult business.

   ''Setting the barter split is a function of a couple of things,'' says Dick
Askin, president of Tribune Entertainment. ''First of all, there is market
demand, and what you think the market will bear. But certainly, you need to have
a minimum barter load to cover your costs.''

   He discounts talk that an eight/six barter split is anything new, noting that
in the early days of the business, the split often went to nine/five or even
higher.

   Other syndicators note that the barter load is often tied to ancillary
revenue streams, especially those with a cable window, whereby series that are
syndication-only are forced to look for an eight/six split, while those that
have either a pay or basic cable component can get away with asking for a
seven/seven split.

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