Dispelling the C.W. on The CW


Naysayers in the business declared that the CW wouldn’t be around in five years.  Guess what? The network is still here and the future looks bright for the youngest skewing broadcast network as it heads into the 2010/2011 season, year five for the network.

The CW launched at the beginning of the 2006-2007 television season as the joint venture between CBS Corporation, the former owners of UPN  and Time Warner’s Warner Bros., former majority owner of The WB. 

From its inception, CW president, Dawn Ostroff focused the network’s brand identity as the destination for Women 18-34.

The programming mix during its first season was essentially a hybrid of content that originated on both UPN and The WB. 

During the 2007/08 season The Wall Street Journal claimed that The CW was in a fight for its life.  According to the publication, its Adult 18-34 audience experienced a steep falloff.  Keep in mind that the WGA strike was a significant contributor to the audience falloff that season and the other broadcast networks also suffered significant audience declines.

The network made several key changes during 2008/09. It dropped WWE Smackdown and was now able to program for audience flow throughout the week. It also scrapped its comedy development in favor of programming drama and reality shows that would appeal to young women. After a disappointing strategic alliance with Media Rights Capital to program its Sunday night block, The CW abandoned programming the night and gave the three hours back to its affiliated stations instead.

The enduring popularity of, Gossip Girl, America’s Next Top Model, as well as the successful launch of newcomer Vampire Diaries during 2009/10, contributed to ratings stability for the network against young adults.  

Unfortunately, its other two rookie series did not fare as well. The Beautiful Life was quickly canceled and remake Melrose Place struggled, despite the addition of Heather Locklear who was also brought in to save the original series the first time around.

As it approaches year five, The CW continues maintain its brand objective: To be the destination for “TV to Talk About.”  Officially announced renewals to date include Gossip Girl, 90210, America’s Next Top Model, Supernatural, Smallville and Vampire Diaries.  A decision regarding the fate of critically acclaimed midseason entry Life Unexpected is expected to be made shortly.

The network intends to launch two new scripted hours during the fall 2010 with more to come during midseason.

Platform Agnostic Audience
According to Rob Tuck, EVP, National Sales, “It’s really about the convergence of the screens. The young adult consumer sees no difference, whether it’s the TV screen or the computer screen.”

CW’s programming also greatly benefits from DVR playback. Timeshifted viewing (based on live plus seven days) to episodes of some of its more popular shows often doubles the live audience.

The CW and its audience are ahead of the curve with regard to harnessing the power of social media. Gossip Girl, for example is not only their most-followed show on Twitter, the series also boasts more than 2.2 million facebook fans. To put this in perspective, Gossip Girl has more fans than ABC’s Lost, (1.9 million fans and Fox’s 24 (321,000 fans), both of which are ending their runs in May 2010.

Online Commercial Load Changes
Next season The CW plans to double the commercial load in online versions of its popular shows, such as Gossip Girl That’s a substantial increase from the one or two ads per online commercial break that have become more standard. Television networks in general are beginning to rethink their Web strategies as more viewers stream online episodes. At the same time content owners have yet to be able to generate much in the way of ad revenue.

This is especially critical for The CW’s audience which happens to be watching online video at higher rates versus older viewers. The network already puts all of its shows on the Web.  However, by making the number of ads online match that on TV, the network hopes to sell the combined Web and TV audience to advertisers in more lucrative upfront packages. These additional online impressions could possibly be included in “C3” ratings once Nielsen is able to properly account for this additional audience. Under the plan, CW shows on the Web would include about 20 30-second commercials an hour, (twice as much as what’s there now). With other promotional time included, the time to watch a CW show online could rise to nearly an hour (versus 48 minutes). However, only those episodes of shows that exactly mirror the linear TV telecast with the exact same national commercials and promotions intact will qualify for inclusion into the “C3” ratings calculation.

2010/11 Program Development

CW’s schedule in year five has great potential based on the talent associated with many of the projects under consideration.  Most of the would-be series come from co-owners CBS Television Studios and/or Warner Bros.  Here’s a look at what could be on tap for 2010/2011:

CW Drama Development

Wyoming Project (CBS Studios-Network TV/Warner Brothers Television)
Genre: Family Drama
Premise: A dramatic series with soap opera elements about a horse trainer in his twenties who inherited his family’s ranch in Wyoming (and the responsibility of raising his three little sisters after the death of their parents. When the ranch has financial problems, his brother, with whom he clashes, returns.  Think of this series a hybrid of Party of Five with the small town sensibility of WB series, Everwood. This series comes from Amy Sherman Palladino and Daniel Palladino (Gilmore Girls) and will have some comedic elements

Betwixt (CBS Studios-Network TV)
Genre: Supernatural Drama
Premise: Based on the book by Tara Bray Smith, this drama revolves around three teenagers who must come to terms with an incredible revelation: they’re all supernatural entities known as changelings. Their futures become irrevocably intertwined as they learn they have critical roles in a looming and potentially deadly other-worldly conflict. Feature writer Elizabeth Chandler (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) has penned the script for the full film pilot and is executive producing

Hell Cats (Warner Brothers/Tom Welling Productions)
Genre: Sports Drama
Premise: A dramatic series based on the book by Kate Torgovnick, which explores one of America’s most iconic team sports, cheerleading. The series shows the physical challenges of a competitive season and the obsession with victory at any price. It centers on an upwardly mobile girl from the wrong side of the tracks who is determined to go to law school and get out of Memphis. When she loses her scholarship, she tries out for the Hellcats, the college’s competitive cheerleading team, and is accepted into the ranks of the squad. Unexpectedly, she discovers that she loves it.  Cast members include Gabrielle Union as head of the cheerleading quad and Ashley Tisdale. Kevin Murphy will executive produce the pilot.

Amy Holden Jones Project (Warner Brothers Television)
Genre: Medical Drama/Soap Opera
Premise: This series is about a young woman from a blue collar town who goes to Harvard Medical School and joins a young group of aspiring doctors.  The stories will told from the point of view of the students as they interact with interns, residents and teaching professors. The quest for medical breakthroughs will be a dominant theme as Harvard Medical School is known for being at the forefront of cutting edge medicine.  

Nomads (CBS Studios-Network TV/Warner Bros/Scott Free Productions)
Genre: Action Adventure Drama
Premise: This series follows four group of young financially struggling backpackers traveling overseas who agree to work secret missions for the CIA to earn money and perpetuate their nomadic lifestyle, opening up their lives to adventure, romance, and danger. The series will shoot in Thailand and Malaysia. This series is under the auspices of Tony and Ridley Scott.

Nikita (Warner Brothers Television/Wonderland Sound and Vision)
Genre: Action Adventure Drama
Premise: A dramatic series update of the 1990 feature film La Femme Nikita. This version centers on “Division” an ultra-secret government intelligence agency that seeks operatives who have severed ties with their families, friends and all remnants of their previous lives. They are trained to be highly embedded, invisible assassins who are on board for life. When the legendary Nikita escapes, goes rogue and is now trying to undermine Division, a replacement must be trained and dispatched to take her place and take her out.  The action adventure drama will have the sensibility of Alias, but will be more grounded.

CW Non-scripted Development

Shed to Wed (25/7 Productions/Mindcrime)
Genre: Reality Competition
Premise: A series in which overweight engaged couples compete to lose weight before their weddings. The winning couple wins the wedding of their dreams. This series is from the creators of The Biggest Loser

Tracey Anderson Project (Ryan Seacrest Productions)
Genre: Reality Alternative
Premise: A documentary style unscripted series starring personal trainer to the stars Tracy Anderson. Starting as a dancer, Anderson later designed several fitness systems – including bands, bars, and cubes. Tracy’s list of celebrity clients includes Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakira, Courtney Cox and Kate Hudson and has studios in Los Angeles and New York City.

Lost Weekend (20th Century Television/ Rat TV)
Genre: Reality Competition
Premise: An unscripted series centering on a scavenger hunt happening over a party weekend.

One Mass Dance (Warner Horizon TV/Stone & Company)
Genre: Reality Competition
Premise: A reality dance series which capitalizes on the Mass Dance and Flash Mob Dance trend. In this new show, the passion for dance and humanity is combined by creating a nationwide competition of choreographed mass dance-offs, huge dance numbers in the spirit and scope of the Michael Jackson “Thriller” dance done by hundreds of Filipino prisoners (one of the most popular YouTube videos ever), the Oprah episode with the Black Eyed Peas in Chicago, and the T-Mobile Flash Mob commercials in Grand Central Station. 

— Shari Anne Brill, an industry analyst, can be reached at [email protected]