Dawn of a New Network8/18/2006 08:00:00 PM Eastern
As a network veteran who has programmed Lifetime and UPN, Dawn Ostroff is well schooled in picking shows and marketing a new lineup. But, as the fall season approaches, she is facing her biggest challenge yet: to successfully launch a broadcast network cobbled together from the ashes of UPN and The WB.
On Sept. 18, Ostroff, president of entertainment for The CW, will lead the CBS and Time Warner-owned network into its inaugural season. As the marketing push shifts into high gear, she spoke to B&C’s Allison Romano about the challenges The CW faces, how the network is courting young viewers and what The CW will look like in a few years.
You’ve secured the distribution and picked the programming. What’s The CW’s biggest challenge now?
One of the biggest challenges is marketing the new network and how we will get this message out. With our new CW affiliates, 67% of UPN viewers will need to transition to a WB station, and 28% of WB viewers have to transition over to a UPN affiliate. It is a very complicated process. And creating the brand and the marketing campaign and making the media buys has been exciting but a big challenge.
We’re talking to a very finicky group of viewers—adults 18-34—and being able to speak to them in a way that they will want to join you and become a part of this network has been a great learning experience. We’re telling this group that they are free to be themselves as individuals and be connected as a community, which is really important to them.
The WB and UPN could not make it on their own, so why do you think The CW has a better shot?
With The WB and UPN, the 18- to 34-year-old viewers were being pulled in two different directions on every night. Having these franchises together will bring in new viewers to shows from both The WB and UPN. We now are in what you can call white space. Without this network, there is no other broadcast network going after the 18- to 34-year-old demographic. There are 45 million 18- to 34-year-olds in this country, and they are the second-largest generation next to the baby boomers. There is clearly the audience out there for this programming. It may just be that the branding, the marketing and the messaging under one roof will be stronger than either of the networks could have been separately.
You’re less than a month away from launch. What keeps you up at night?
I worry the most about viewers finding us. I feel really good about the quality of the shows and really excited about the storylines, the arcs and the characters. We’ve worked really hard at making the shows more diverse this year, particularly the WB shows. But I do feel most concerned about the viewers finding us. That is going to be a big challenge, and it can’t be understated.
We’ve worked very hard on the marketing. The pictures have attitude, the green has attitude. It reflects a network that wants to be known for being bold and out there and fun. It has a real spark. I think that everything we do has to have that attitude. We really approach this as a brand. First and foremost is the programming. But I can’t think of another time in history when anyone has been able to launch a network with the programming already established and you get to create a brand around the programming.
We’re hoping, by the end of the season, everyone knows who we are and where we are. I don’t know if it will take that long, but that’s what we think. We’re not going to start off looking [for ratings increases]; we’re trying to be realistic on who is finding us and how. At the end of the season, we’d like to see some growth but I have never put a number to it. We’re being very realistic about the beginning.
What is your strongest night, and what’s the trouble spot?
For us, Wednesday or Tuesday are very strong. Monday could be difficult. But it is really tough to say. It is not like you know what the shows have done before. We may attribute things to the fact that viewers haven’t found a show yet in certain markets. Some markets are really strong for particular shows. That’s why we’re trying really hard to market some shows in certain markets, so markets with the biggest Gilmore Girls numbers know the show is moving to another channel or will be on The CW. It is just too hard for us to say right now what will do the best and what will be our biggest concern. We don’t know where we’re starting from. We have to let everyone settle in. The first few weeks, there are so many messages being thrown at viewers by all the networks. It is going to take time.
What does this network look like a year or two from now?
There will be new programming. Our strategy at launch was to take shows that are already established franchises and use those as a means of bringing viewers to the new network. The programming will truly start to become CW programming in the next few years. We have a great team in place.
Next season is going to be a big year for us. We’re going to have the opportunity to do new shows. This year, we shot very few pilots, knowing we were going to depend on the established shows. We are going to do more pilots than The WB or UPN ever did. We’re already shooting some midseason shows, including a comedy pilot Aliens in America.
We have a very strong development team, and over the next few years, the programming is just going to keep getting stronger. We will define what The CW programming really is.
So what is a CW show?
Our shows are going to appeal to the 18- to 34-year-olds but will have something unique about them that feels fresh. They will be compelling, engaging and, in some way, contemporary. Everybody Hates Chris is a unique twist on a family show. With the dramas, Gilmore Girls, Veronica Mars and Runaway are different takes on a family show.