CW's Leasing Sunday Night Time Slots

To some TV programmers, CW selling off its entire Sunday night prime-time lineup is nothing less than giving up. To others, it is  a prudent business decision in a difficult time for the network.

CW can't figure out how to charm its young viewers on Sunday, so it's handing the keys over to TV production company Media Rights Capital, which has bought out the network's three-hour time block.

It's rent-a-network time.

Even CW executives admit maybe that's what the world is coming to -- at least part of the time. Mind you, this isn't new. Network have been doing time-buy deals for years -- with Saturday morning kids' programming blocks like on Fox and CW, and with fringe weekend network sports series.

Years ago UPN sold off its Friday night, in a time-buy, to WWE (later changing to where UPN sold the advertising time). Ironically, that deal -- which was taken over by CW when it launched -- is now reverting back to where CW will again program Friday nights. WWE moves to MyNetworkTV next year.

It seems the CW on Sunday nights isn't  helping the station's late night newscast. The network targets 18- to 34-year-old viewers. This doesn't help the typically older viewers of the news broadcast on Tribune stations, the major market affiliates of CW. So the new MRC will target older viewers, 18-49, instead.

If that's true --- then what about changing the rest of the CW prime-time schedule? Don't the Tribune stations also run news the other nights of the week? And even then, most newscasts actually skew older than 18-49, more for the 25-54 demo.

Forget that for a second. Think of the advertising component. It'll be hard enough to launch new shows in a short time span -- what about selling the concept to advertisers? Supposedly MRC has the rights to it -- though the CW has some part in the actual advertising selling.

Analysts are ruminating over what role WPP Group, which is a minority investor (of less than 10%) in Media Rights Capital, will play.

Typically time-buying TV producers bear the responsibility for the advertiser revenues -- always a big unknown when starting up new programming. Will WPP advertisers buy in? For those marketers, it comes down to the same problem. What are they getting that they didn't get from the CW programmers?

The CW was losing money on Sunday night -- perhaps as much as $30 million to $40 million dollars a year, according to some executives. Why would it get into a deal with MRC if it wasn't guaranteed to get out of this mess?

One could have seen this coming. "CW Now" was a Sunday night CW weekly magazine attempt to lay off some risk to advertisers -- by selling off segments to Publicis Groups's MediaVest Worldwide clients.

Where does this leave those loyal and young CW viewers? The answer is sticky, when CW (and WB and UPN before it) now mixes in older 18-49 viewers, after spending years trying to get the young 18-34 and 12-24 viewers.

But maybe that's the real truth of new programming on broadcast networks -- it's not just about one demographic group anymore, or one way of programming prime time



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