Saturday, January 10, 2009

Downturn or Opportunity

Depending on how you look at it, the economic downturn could be either good or bad news for you if you are in the syndication business. On the plus side, take a look at all the cuts being made by the major broadcast companies and it would appear that the time is ripe for syndcation, and that EVERY syndicated product or program will flourish as a result of the need to cut costs and improve effeciencies.

On the other hand, the downturn also means that people are going to be far more cautious and possibly less likely to take a chance on something new and unproven. Case in point:

I got the bad news this week that a couple of my friends who were working for a start-up network were all sacked with about 24 hours notice. Even more of an insult, the company attorney, rather than the president of the company did the firing as the business unceremoniously closed its doors. Talk about lousy.

Would this particular company have made it in better times. I don't think so. Without knowing anything about their financial health, from the outside it was a recipe for disaster: A programming concept that was unclear, marketing that was poorly executed and no real reason to exist. The programs had no proven track record. Could it have been fixed. Possibly. I think there are a few things that might have changed their lot in life and I'll talk about that in my next post.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Rich or Famous?

Lots of us would probably answer "both". If you're interested in being syndicated, that's an important question. We've already established that only a very small number of broadcasters make it into the stratosphere of syndication. That doesn't mean you should give up on your dreams, which brings me to the question: Rich or Famous?

A number of years ago I helped launch a medical vignette program that was hosted by a holistic physician. When he approached me about the project, I told him the truth: The syndication business can be financially and professionally very rewarding; and it can also be very competitive and difficult.

His answer to me was that he wasn't in it for the money. His hospital was willing to invest in the costs of the project in order to forward his name--and theirs by extension--and help beef up the physician's C.V. (that's doctor talk for "make his resume look better). They felt that the syndicated radio route was unique enough and interesting enough that it would help the doctor stand out among his peers. We distributed his show for quite some time to a small number of stations, but both the doctor and his hospital were pleased with the outcome and the positive impact that it had on the reputation of both. He didn't get rich, and he's not famous in the sense of his becoming a household word, but he did accomplish his goals.

For most who are interested in being syndicated, it's all about being BOTH rich and famous. Syndication is a good business and even if you never make it to the very top, there's lots of money to be made. Sometimes, though, there's even a win in small-scale syndication.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

300 Affiliates and Growing!

I always find it interesting when I see ads or hear from people that a particular show is on "300 affiliates and growing". I'm going to date myself here, but it reminds me of the old Elvis album with a map of the US and images of Elvis all over it: "5 Million Fans Can't be Wrong".

There's no question that those kind of affiliate numbers are incredible. But no one gets paid on raw affiliate count. We make money by delivering audience effectively for advertisers. That's the beauty of network radio for national advertisers like Geico, Sears, Home Depot and the like: Lots of coverage for a very reasonable price.

If you are new to network radio, here's how it works: Virtually every syndicated or network program or product is provided to stations on a "barter" basis. That means the station broadcasts your program in exchange for commercial time. There are some exceptions, and some variations to this, but in general that's the arrangement. It's then up to the network or syndicator to take those commercials and sell them to an advertiser. Advertisers typically pay a negotiated price based upon the audience your program delivers. And that is entirely based upon the quality of the stations with which your program is affiliated. While being on 300 stations is better than being on 75 stations, at the end of the day, you will get paid on the audience delivery of that affiliate base whether it's one station or one thousand stations. Look for more specifics about this in a subsequent post.

Something to keep in mind next time to see an ad proclaiming 300 Affiliates and Growing.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Testing Is it any good?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Who Are You?

I spoke with someone the other day who wanted to be syndicated. They are the host of an interview program on a local station. A good host, nice voice, but the individual brought nothing to the interview. My question to this person was "Who are you?"

What I meant by that is what's your unique take? Do you have a point of view or a position? This person didn't have a good answer to that question. Doing a solid radio interview is great, but the audience would be far more engaged with you if you asked different questions. Howard Stern, like him or not, is a good interviewer because he's not afraid to ask the questions that everyone is thinking about, but most would be afraid to ask. That works for the interview subjects because for the celebs and others, surviving an interview with Howard is a badge of courage.

If your goal is to be syndicated, you have to stand out from the crowd. What makes your on-air performance special?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Everyone Wants to be Syndicated

We've kidded about this within our building for years. Apparently everyone in the world who is in radio wants to be syndicated. There's nothing wrong with that really. Everyone should have their aspirations.

That's how I got into the business. I was a sophomore in college and some friends and I thought that everyone should hear the top 10 New Wave songs of the week. Two years and 80 stations later we thought we were geniuses. Then we lost our sponsors and had to fold the company--at the ripe old age of 21!

It wasn't till much later on that we realized in our particular case that the reason for our success was not our concept, but lack of product within our target market (we played a lot of imported music which was not easily obtained by college stations outside of big cities). As more of the product became available domestically, I think our show would have had less and less appeal.

Which brings me to the point of this blog and some thoughts about syndication:

Successful syndication requires that you provide something to a station that it can't do or can't easily do on it's own: Jingles, show prep, and even personalities fall into this category. Many people can talk politics, but clearly Rush Limbaugh and to a lesser degree Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity make it entertaining as well. Limbaugh is the master. Right or left, you have to appreciate the craft and how well he entertains.

The hottest show today is probably Ryan Seacrest's radio venture. It's a double whammy because you get a national star plus you get the celebrity interviews that would be difficult if not impossible for stations to do on their own. If you're not Seacrest, you still have a shot, but you have to ask yourself the hard question: What is it that I do that a station can't do themselves just as easily.

Someone brought me a sample of a show they want to syndicate that is essentially a history of Classic Rock. Would stations want that? Possibly. But upon listening to the show, the person hosting it was a poor announcer, and he didn't bring anything new to the music than the information that was readily available on the Internet. If he had some interviews, or some little known information about the artist or if he shuffled up the music thematically in some way, the project might have had some appeal. As it was the project had neither production values, nor good information, nor anything different musically.

Another person asked me about being syndicated. He was doing an Urban PM Drive show. He said his show was just like Michael Baisden's very successful show. I asked him what he does and he said he plays music and takes calls. That alone isn't what makes Michael's show unique. It's his position on society and his sometime controversial positions regarding Civil Rights and African Americans that put him on the map and his daily radio show keeps people listening because it's a compelling show. This individual had really no idea about what his own show was about and worse than that, his ratings in his home market were very poor.

That's the other part of the equation. If you're going to syndicate, you had better be a big star in your home market first. Look at any of the "entertainment" based shows in AM or PM Drive and they have that one thing in common: Dominance of their home market. Bob & Tom, Bob & Sheri, Tom Joyner (who did a show live each day in BOTH Dallas and Chicago for a while) share this trait. Some debate whether success in a single market is a guarantee of success elsewhere, and I'll talk about that in a subsequent post.

Bottom line: Can everyone be syndicated? Maybe. Depends on your abiltiy to bring something to stations that they can't duplicate easily or a ratings track record that demands attention.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lately it seems like everyone in the radio industry is either syndicated, about to be syndicated or wants to be syndicated. After all, who wouldn't want to be heard on stations across America, or become an opinion leader. But networking or syndicating programming is almost as old as Radio itself. Almost since day one, radio stations have utilized services outside their buildings to do that which they could not easily do themselves. From presidential elections, to the "Golden Age" programs such as The Lone Ranger and others, As radio entertainment moved toward music, syndication followed the formatic changes, producing countdowns, concerts and other music specials. Today it's Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Neal Boortz for talk, and personalities like Bob & Tom, and Tom Joyner for music stations.

There's also a wide range of services provided by syndicators that includes sports programming, show prep services and vignette features for all formats.

I got involved in syndication when I started my own syndication company as a college sophomore at NYU in 1980. We grew that program, Wavebreaker, from a single station to a network of approximately 80 stations in the US and Europe. I can't imagine anything else I would have done. It's been a lot of fun and I've had the chance to work with and meet an amazing range of people.

Over the coming days and weeks, I'll post thoughts and opinions about the business and look forward to getting your feedback and questions as we begin Syndication Nation.