Four months before launch, The CW has already met its goal of reaching 90% of the country. Now the network is gearing up for another major hurdle: its inaugural upfront presentation.
The May 18 showcase kicks off The CW's ad-sales efforts and is also its coming-out party, with the schedule and official logo to be unveiled. After that, the network and its affiliates have to get down to business—fast.
The summer is usually broadcast TV's downtime of reality shows and reruns. But, for The CW and its affiliates, the season will be hectic, as they scramble to educate viewers and advertisers about the network and where to tune in to the likes of Smallville and America's Next Top Model.
“There have been a finite number of attempts to create a new network,” says The CW COO John Maatta. “We'll do everything to raise awareness—both traditional and radical marketing—that we can think of.” That will involve traditional and new media, he says, adding that he isn't ready to talk specifics.
The CW will likely launch in mid to late September, possibly on Sept. 18.
The bulk of The CW's distribution is set. The network has affiliates in all top 40 markets, surpassing 90% of the country. Last week, The CW secured distribution on eight stations operated by Sinclair Broadcast Group, including key top-25 markets Minneapolis-St. Paul and Baltimore. Sinclair had been the last major group holding out.
As early as June 1, CW affiliates plan to introduce their branding and promotional campaigns. Since The WB and UPN announced in January that they will shut down and form The CW, prospective affiliates have been using mock schedules and a place-holder logo in presentations with media buyers and advertisers. After the upfront, they'll have the answers and begin receiving marketing materials from the network.
“We've all been anxious. There has been some confusion about exactly what we'll have on,” says Carol LaFever, CEO of Cascade Broadcasting, which will have The CW in Tucson, Ariz., and Louisville, Ky. After the January announcement, she says, some advertisers were hesitant to buy time for the third and fourth quarters, so Cascade's sales executives devised possible schedules. “We found that stimulated sales,” LaFever adds.
STICK WITH THE PROGRAM
At media-buying firm Carat North America, Mary Barnas, executive VP of local broadcast operations, has been advising her clients to keep buying time on future CW stations. “We'll adjust accordingly based on what programs come out at the upfront. We're used to readjusting,” she says. “It's been nerve-wracking for the account executives at the stations, though.”
With The CW name expected to stick, affiliates plan to attach the new moniker to their local naming convention, such as The CW 11, for an affiliate that brands with its channel number, or The CW Wisconsin, if a station uses its network and location. Several stations are changing their call letters to reflect The CW: WNPA Pittsburgh is becoming WPCW, for instance, and KBEJ Austin, Texas, KCWX.
Names aside, station owners say that strong programming will sell The CW. “When The WB started, we pushed the brand harder than the programming because we didn't have great programs,” says Doug Gealy, president of ACME Communications, which owns seven soon-to-be CWs. “This time, we will promote the brand through the established programs.”
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