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Buyers Weigh In on CW’s Prospects

Jan 30, 2006  •  Post A Comment

In a tightening broadcast television market, it’s possible one network can live better than two.

With The CW replacing The WB and UPN as an outlet looking to reach younger viewers, ad buyers said the new network might be a stronger entry than were its predecessors. But the buyers quickly added that some of the ad dollars that have been going to UPN and The WB will likely go to sponsor shows on Fox Broadcasting and cable TV networks.

“There’s still lots to be sorted out, but [The CW] should have the best stations and the best programs” from the networks The CW is replacing, said Marc Goldstein, CEO of Mindshare North America.

In last year’s upfront, The WB sold about $675 million in inventory, while UPN took in $375 million, a total of just over $1 billion. In this year’s upfront The CW, which is scheduled to launch this fall, is more likely to write about $750 million, ad buyers estimated.

“We’ve always realized there’s an overabundance of inventory in the national market,” said Bill Cella, chairman and CEO of Magna Global. “This will tighten it up.” Mr. Cella was among several major ad buyers who addressed the prospects of the new network during a panel at last week’s annual conference of the National Association of Television Program Executives.

Last year, UPN began chasing the young women who had long flocked to The WB. “From an advertising point of view, putting them together makes more sense that it did a few years ago,” said panel member Mike Rosen, chief investment officer for GM Planworks, which plans ad spending for General Motors.

Bill Morningstar, head of sales for The WB, will be in charge of ad sales for The CW. Mike Mandelker, who had been in charge of ad sales for UPN, left last year to work for Fox News Channel.

The WB’s youth-targeting positioning enabled it to command premium prices in the marketplace, despite ratings that were never consistently strong.

Calling The WB “overvalued,” one admiring competitor said, “It gets three times the [cost-per-thousand] Turner does, and it gets a lower rating. You explain the logic of that to me.”

Mr. Morningstar told TelevisionWeek he expects the new network to have “the same sensibility and target [as UPN and The WB], but it’s taking the best affiliates [and] the best programming. It’s taking the resources of two immensely powerful studios and taking the best talent from the two companies.”

If he thought that a more high-powered network in a market with fewer gross ratings points overall was a formula for higher prices, Mr. Morningstar didn’t say: “Obviously we’ll sit down with our marketing partners and figure out a fair value for what we’re going to bring out to the marketplace.”

But other broadcast and cable markets are also looking to scoop up some of the dollars that have been going to The WB and UPN.

“That audience is going to go somewhere. It’s young-skewing and when you look at the price differential between even UPN, which was 20 to 25 percent cheaper than The WB, that’s still significantly higher than [Fox cable], Comedy, VH1, E! So I think we’re going to be the beneficiary,” said Bruce Lefkowitz, senior VP of ad sales for Fox Cable Entertainment Group.

Irwin Gotlieb, CEO of Group M, which owns two major buying agencies, noted that the spectacle of a network disappearing is a novelty. Most people would have expected the number of networks to increase. “We haven’t taken a step back in a long time,” he said.

Some stations will be left with no affiliation at all, leading to new kinds of local programming schemes, said Peggy Green, president of broadcast and entertainment for Zenith Media USA. “I’m happy the true independent is back,” she said.