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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

International Television: Warner Bros. Not Happy About The CW!


Warner Worried Over CW Miscues

Unhappy over the volume of red ink associated with the network, Warner Bros., sources said, is looking for ways to offset its losses by capitalizing on previous programming successes and the still-popular WB network brand.

John Consoli

MARCH 24, 2008 -

Warner Bros. Television Group’s plan to launch a Web site targeting young consumers with both original streamed programming and vintage shows from the defunct WB is partly the result of the company’s dissatisfaction over how the ratings-challenged CW network is being programmed and marketed under the supervision of partner CBS, said industry insiders familiar with the situation.

Unhappy over the volume of red ink associated with the network (even though it is just in its second year), Warner Bros., sources said, is looking for ways to offset its losses by capitalizing on previous programming successes and the still-popular WB network brand.

Warner officials are said to be perturbed that few Warner Bros. studio shows have been put on The CW schedule. The lone new Warner Bros. drama on the net this season is Gossip Girl, which Warner insiders described as the classic WB show, in the vein of shows that helped put the WB network on the map. “Warner Bros. isn’t making anything off these shows, and they have no second life in syndication,” said one insider.

Various sources both inside Warner Bros. and CBS, and within assorted media agencies, told Mediaweek there is a growing frustration among Warner execs who are unhappy that a good portion of the traditional WB viewership was lost when WB and UPN were merged to form The CW two years ago.

Moreover, some Warner Bros. execs privately believe UPN should have been incorporated into WB, with the latter network keeping its name and stations instead of rebuilding a new network. While WBTG has not publicly confirmed plans to start a younger-skewing Web site, tentatively to be called (Mediaweek, March 10), it has said it is in the process of developing “several Warner Bros. Web destinations.”

Insiders believe that, if the new is successful, it could lead to the WB starting a new, young-skewing cable net, should The CW fold. “I think they are covering their bases here,” said one source familiar with the new site, “and are launching it as a trial balloon.”

Said another source: “The young adult marketplace is still robust, and advertisers have said they miss what the WB brand represented.”

The CW was formed two years ago when Warner’s WB and CBS-owned UPN were merged, with a mingling of executives from both networks. A board was formed to run the new network made up of Bruce Rosenblum, WBTG president; Barry Meyer, chairman and CEO, Warner Bros. Entertainment; Les Moonves, president, CEO of CBS Corp.; and Nancy Tellem, president, CBS Paramount TV Entertainment Group. But Warner basically ceded the programming of the network to the CBS executives.

Dawn Ostroff, UPN’s programming president, was put in charge of programming The CW, and the WB promotional team was let go.

“Even though they are part of the joint board, Warner execs gave CBS the authority to run The CW day-to-day,” said one source familiar with the situation. “And they haven’t been able to break a hit. CBS brass seems to be focusing most of their attention on the big network [CBS], and Dawn won’t make a move or spend any money on programming pilots unless it is approved by Les [Moonves].”

CBS and CW representatives declined to comment for this story.

Rosenblum, WBTG president, last week issued a statement to Mediaweek, to dispel the intra-network friction. “Warner Bros. continues to have an excellent relationship with The CW television network and our partners at CBS,” he said. “Our current digital initiatives, as well as those in development, will have absolutely no impact upon or diminish our commitment to The CW, or any of our current broadcast and cable partners.”

He also maintained that a new Web site should not be viewed as a reaction to any unhappiness with CW or for that matter CBS. “At our core, we are a content company with a strategy of providing original programming to broadcast and cable networks, to TV stations via first-run syndication and to broadcasters around the world,” Rosenblum stated. “We see the emerging digital marketplace as an exciting new distribution opportunity for our content, complementing our traditional businesses.”

Rosenblum added, “Warner Bros. has no plans to launch a young adult cable network.” But another executive with knowledge of the situation said Warner Bros. officials can’t be negative publicly toward CBS because the Warner Bros. studio remains a programming provider to CBS and The CW. “You’ll never get Bruce to speak freely about his feelings toward CBS,” the executive said. “[Moonves] is a buyer of TV shows, and Bruce needs him to buy Warner Bros. shows.”

Others argue that The CW’s problems may be more distribution-oriented than about programming. One source said both sides miscalculated in thinking they could build a new distribution network that could rival that of WB. “They thought they would have the pick of both the WB and UPN stations, but they never anticipated Fox coming in and swiping away many of those stations for MyNetworkTV,” the source said. “The CW distribution system is weaker today than WB’s was, and that’s part of the reason why they are having ratings problems.”

Whatever The CW’s problems, media agency execs believe the survival of the network is important for their advertisers. The CW draws a targeted audience of young women that advertisers in many categories want to reach. “Now that The CW is in the situation it’s in,” said one media buyer, “it is important that it find a way turn things around.”

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