In Depth

CW Sells Sunday Night to Outside Programmer

Media Rights Capital to Fill Block Used for Repeats

CW is set to announce that it is turning over its Sunday-night air to Media Rights Capital, an independent company that finances TV programs and movies, according to people familiar with the situation.

The maneuver illustrates the difficult situation being faced by the fledgling network, which is jointly owned by Time Warner Inc. and CBS Corp. While CW reaches a consumer demographic that is notoriously hard to find -- teens and young people -- its ratings have been abysmal in its second full season on the air.

A CW spokesman declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Media Rights Capital was not able to offer an immediate comment.

Ratings plunge

As of May 4, the network's rating among households have fallen 22%, while its ratings among audiences between the ages of 18 and 49 have tumbled 24%, according to research from Wachovia broadcasting analyst Marci Ryvicker.

While the network's flagship program, "Gossip Girl," has generated a lot of buzz, and its ad executives have devised innovative experimental formats for broadcast TV, ratings have remained lackluster.

In a telling move, CW announced it would take the last five episodes of this season's run of "Gossip Girl" off the web, and not allow consumers to stream it. Instead, it is running promotions designed to entice fans to watch the episodes on TV first and foremost.

CW was already airing repeats on Sunday nights, so turning the time over to an independent firm might generate new viewership. What remains unclear, however, is how Media Rights Capital would present its ideas for Sunday night to advertisers.

Unclear goals

With just days left before its upfront presentation next Tuesday evening, the network is expected to pitch itself as a great place to reach younger viewers, particularly female ones. It's not clear whether MRC would go after the same demographic, or something entirely different -- or whether media buyers and advertisers would welcome its programming.

In February, MRC TV studio's announced it had sold several shows to Fox and ABC. ABC purchased a 13-episode order of a Mike Judge prime-time animated series,"The Goode Family," as well as a sitcom, "How Not to Live Your Life." Fox picked up "DNA," a one-hour drama from " Sopranos" creatives Andy Schneider and Diane Frolov; and two half-hour sitcoms, "Loaded" and "Pedro," both executive-produced by Steve Levinson. MRC also has a cross-network arrangement with MTV Networks to produce 19 episodes of "Name That Tune" for MTV, VH-1 and CMT.

WPP Group, the British ad-holding company, purchased a minority stake in MRC in 2007.