UPN Earns Cachet Among ‘Edgy’

Aug 16, 2004  •  Post A Comment

By Claire Atkinson

Advertising Age

Is Viacom’s other broadcast network, UPN, finally on the brink of gaining some respect?

Long a haven for “Star Trek”-loving dweebs and “WWE SmackDown!”-obsessed fanatics, it’s fair to say that UPN has long been, well, buzz-challenged. Even UPN Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff admitted at a recent press event that the station suffered from a “multiple-personality disorder.”

But that seems to have cleared up. Now the network is squarely targeting “edgy, trend-setting females” ages 18 to 34, according to agency buyers. And key shows are winning more attention from audience-driving celebrity tabloid weeklies such as American Media’s Star.

Shari Anne Brill, VP, director of programming, at Aegis Group’s Carat, agreed. “UPN is absolutely in turnaround. A big part of that is down to Dawn Ostroff and [Viacom Co-Chief Operating Officer and Co-President] Leslie Moonves. That’s given them access to really good talent in front of and behind the camera.”

The huge growth in the second season of “America’s Next Top Model,” which airs its third season this fall, has helped change perceptions. The first season of “Top Model” attracted an average of 3.7 million viewers, a figure that grew to 6.3 million in its second season. In the sought-after 18 to 49 demographic, the show grew from an average 1.9 rating and 5 share to a 3.0 rating and a 7 share.

‘Amish in the City’

This summer’s “Amish in the City,” which the network bills as a journey of self-discovery, has also helped establish the new UPN. “Amish” boosted UPN’s year-over-year performance, ranking among the top 25 shows from its first week through Aug. 3 among adults ages 18 to 49.

The reality series portrays youngsters from an Amish community enjoying their “rumspringa” or coming of age-a period when Amish teens are free to sample non-Amish lifestyles-in Los Angeles. In “The Simple Life” style, the Amish are thrown together with a group of city slickers. While the critics initially complained that the show would be exploitative of innocent country folk, it’s the modern-day youngsters who come off looking foolish.

‘A New Audience’

Model/producer Tyra Banks and rappers Eve and Missy Elliott all appear in their own shows this year. Eve returns as star in the second season of her eponymous series about a young woman’s struggles with career and romance-Queen Latifah has appeared as a guest. “The Road to Stardom With Missy Elliott,” a reality contest that features a search for the next great hip-hop star, will air when “Top Model” ends its run.

This new direction is giving TV commentators and advertisers pause for thought.

Hyun Kim, lifestyle editor at Spin Ventures’ Vibe, said: “UPN, more than any other network, has been embraced by a new audience.” He said UPN has long done the kind of shows that other networks wouldn’t touch, such as those targeted at black or “urban” audiences.

“After the success of `Top Model,’ we stuck a flag in the ground and told people it isn’t what it was three years ago,” said Jo Ann Ross, president of ad sales for UPN and sibling CBS. Indeed, Ms. Ostroff is entering her second development season with UPN-she joined from Lifetime.