In a fall season that has offered critics plenty of cannon fodder, The CW’s Jane the Virgin and The Flash have been rare darlings. Online aggregator Metacritic rates the two series—the only new additions to The CW’s lineup this fall, both given full-season orders Oct. 21—as No.’s 1 and 3, respectively, among the best-loved broadcast freshmen. But an undercurrent of bemusement ran through many of the otherwise positive reviews that greeted the shows. Exhibit A: Variety’s Brian Lowry, who wrote that Jane “contains a secret ingredient that is in short supply, perhaps especially on many of The CW’s recent soaps: charm.”
The CW president Mark Pedowitz is only a little irritated at the “backhanded compliments” that found their way into what was otherwise a crush of positive press.
“It was great to be a critical darling,” says Pedowitz. But (mostly) good notices are not the only things new at The CW. When Pedowitz arrived in 2011, he set about expanding the network’s audience beyond the teen girls laser-targeted by former entertainment president Dawn Ostroff. That effort is bearing fruit. The CW’s audience has gone from 29.6% men in 2011-12 to 39.2% in the current season to date. The network’s median age has risen from 36.8 to 41.7 over the same period.
Flash and Jane have done their part. The former had the mostwatched premiere in CW history, drawing 6.1 million viewers in live viewing plus three days of playback, according to Nielsen. The latter has scored high with Hispanic audiences, traditionally underserved by broadcast TV. Both shows have helped their respective nights, Mondays for Jane and Tuesdays for Flash, increase by more than 45% in total viewers from last season.
Pedowitz sat down with B&C programming and digital media editor Daniel Holloway in his Burbank office in the middle of an annual tradition—visiting each of his shows. The night before, he took the cast and executive producers of Jane the Virgin out to dinner in Long Beach, Calif. The next night he will be in Vancouver, where will attend the 200th episode party for Supernatural, a holdover from before the WB and UPN were combined to form The CW. Pedowitz pulled the show off the Friday-night scrap heap when he arrived and credits it for helping to revitalize the network. Then he will take the Flash team out the following evening. Before heading north, Pedowitz, joined by Rick Haskins, the network’s executive VP of marketing and digital platforms, talked to B&C about how three years of planning led to this moment. An edited transcript follows.
Mark, you’ve said a number of times, at TCA press tour and at upfronts, that the network is no longer the Gossip Girl network. So what is it?
Mark Pedowitz: It is a broader 18-34-yearold network. That’s how we looked at it. We wanted to have a more balanced appeal. By doing that, we’ve attracted more viewers. By doing that, it allowed us to find new advertisers who are coming to us.
Rick Haskins: I would say creatively we’re very different. We did an anthropological deep dive, and it was very interesting for us to look at. When we talked about The CW brand and what came to mind, that was very different from when we talked about The CW shows that are on right now.
Does that mean that the perception of the network is still that it’s the teen-girls network and that the audience has to catch up?
Pedowitz: There’s a dual perception going on. The advertisers—not all—have now come to believe that we’re a broader place to be. The affiliates have come to believe that we’re a broader place to be, and its been reflected in their local ratings. The Netflix effect of Gossip Girl, and some of the pre-existing shows that can be seen on Netflix, repurposes the idea that it is a teenage network.
Haskins: We experienced this the other day when we were talking about someone who said, ‘CW is my favorite network.’ What show do you watch? They go, ‘I’m watching Gossip Girl right now.’ Well, the only place you can watch Gossip Girl is on Netflix, but to them, in their mind, that was The CW.
You’ve been preparing for some time for this digital incursion. What has been unforeseen about it?
Pedowitz: How fast the digital incursion actually occurred. Three years ago, Rick and I, this is the truth, we were doing our weekly meeting, and we looked at each other, and we said, wait a second, we’re looking at this wrong. It needs to be looked at this way—which is that broadcasting’s incredibly important, but the world is going to become far more digital. So how do you maximize it for both of those things? For the last three years, we’ve devised strategies to do both ends of the business.
What percentage of your audience is watching on digital platforms that you can monetize directly?
Pedowitz: Roughly 15% to 20%. Haskins: To me the most important stat is that we’re growing at a 50% rate on an annual basis. The other thing is that now 50% of digital is viewed on mobile. When I got here it was, You can’t do anything more than two minutes on digital because they won’t watch it—on computer. Mobile was non-existent at the time. Then it was, Maybe you can do full episode but you can only do one pre-roll, because that’s all they’re gonna tolerate. And today we’re fully ad-loaded on CWtv with our long-form on tablet and on mobile.
What about the impact of the Netflix deal?
Pedowitz: Once you release the prior season on Netflix, the binge effect begins to happen. That binge effect begins to play to your broadcast, because now they’re caught up. So you see this marketing coming from last season’s episodes.
Haskins: I think Supernatural’s resurgence, not all, but in large part, was from the first year it was on Netflix. I do think that people binge watched it and then wanted to continue on through broadcast. So to me it is an incredibly valuable marketing tool to let people get caught up or find out about a new show and continue it on broadcast. By the way, I think Hulu works as well for us. What everybody thought was going to happen didn’t.
What is it that everyone thought would happen but didn’t?
Pedowitz: They thought that CWtv.com would go away.
Haskins: And that everybody would watch it on Hulu.
You developed Backpackers on CW Seed, then moved it to the network last summer. It didn’t go great on broadcast.
Pedowitz: It didn’t go great based on Nielsen. Rentrak data, had it been more current, we might have kept it going. One of the flaws for Rentrak is that you can’t get the data until almost three weeks later. But [Nielsen and Rentrak] don’t always match up. But had they been somewhat consistent to each other, I might have kept it on the air longer.
What did Rentrak tell you that Nielsen didn’t?
Pedowitz: They were seeing a total audience two-and-a-half times greater than what Nielsen was reporting. So it didn’t succeed because I’m still going with the currency of the industry [Nielsen]. And the best thing to do for my affiliates, based on that currency, which most of them still utilize, was to basically pull it off the schedule.
Are you more skeptical of that currency?
Pedowitz: I think they’re very good people. I think they’re competent people. I just have difficulty understanding how you have 23,000 homes, soon to go up to 42,000 homes, and that samples over 300 million people. I know there’s methodology that says you do it. I just find it difficult to fully fathom.
You marketed Flash really aggressively, and Jane also. How are you judging them so far?
Pedowitz:Flash is an easy one at the moment. It was our highest premiere ever in [liveplus- three viewing] and it basically held the audience in the second episode. And we saw advertisers come in for scatter for us who had not spoken to us in a number of years. And they came in unsolicited. So it’s paid off itself in multiple ways.
Haskins: We talked about broadening the audience. One of the things I think is interesting about Jane is that 21% of the audience was Hispanic vs. 17% of the population.
You’re developing another telenovela adaptation, First Lady. Are you looking at that Hispanic audience as white space that you can move into?
Haskins: I personally think it is white space and I think that as the Hispanic population becomes more acculturated, those types of shows are going to become more important on this type of broadcast network. What we’re finding in media, for instance, is that when we did the media buy, yes we have a Hispanic overlay, but by just going to the usual places where we buy media, we are getting a lot of the Hispanic audience, which tells me that the Hispanic audience is becoming acculturated. So having product for them is a good thing on a traditional broadcast network
How much has broadening the audience been a response to concerns from your affiliates?
Pedowitz: The distribution system of television stations is the best distribution system there is. If your main customer has some issues, and you have different, overlapping points of view, you have to at least listen to them. We’ve heard what their concerns were since I got here. We’ve had to rebuild a schedule a little bit, and in that process we rebuilt it to be a broader schedule.
What were their concerns when you got here?
Pedowitz: Their preference would have been a much older audience. We think we found a middle ground. Our average age last year was 41, which is almost the halfway point between 25 and 54, which is what they’re going for. And they want a larger audience. We think we’re delivering those shows now that bring in the larger audience that flows into their newscast.
What kind of feedback are you getting from them now?
Pedowitz: They’re happy. When Arrow and Supernatural worked and Vampire Diaries worked, they started to see the change. The strategy then for the following year was preserve Wednesday night, build Tuesday night and try to keep Thursday night strong. We successfully did that. The strategy this year was build Monday, keep Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday going.
Haskins: We never had stronger affiliate support for a launch than we did this year. Ever. And not just from one station group, but from every station group. They love The Flash, they love Jane, and they really got behind it in a way I’ve never seen before and they’re moving into that in November sweeps as well. So it wasn’t just for launch. They are continuing to support those shows.
Pedowitz: And a special shout-out for Tribune. We did a junket for them to come out to see Jane and they got out there and they pumped it as big as possible.
With Tribune, CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves said last month that they would like to be more involved in The CW’s programming decisions. How much communication do you have with them on those decisions?
Pedowitz: Well, I speak to Peter [Liguori, Tribune Media president and CEO]. He knows about our shows. Anything beyond that, how that arrangement works, that’s really between Leslie and Peter and Kevin [Tsujihara, Warner Bros. chairman and CEO]. But I spoke to Peter yesterday. He’s our largest affiliate group. He’s also a friend for many, many years, so I make sure that he knows what’s going on here and he’s been very supportive. He’s personally been very supportive, particularly with Jane.
What is the value of The CW to your corporate parents?
Pedowitz: It depends upon the partner. For Warner Bros., we provide another platform for them to have their shows on. Particularly I believe, and I think [DC Entertainment president] Diane Nelson and everybody else would say the same thing, we helped regenerate the DC brand. And that value alone I can’t even ascertain. In terms of CBS, we’re also another place [for programming] to be, and we also provide programming to their owned stations, which means they do not have to go out and purchase it from somebody else. There’s an upside to that. As long as we’re fulfilling that purpose, we’re a viable entity. But you have to looks at the entity as part of the whole.
Very long term, does The CW continue to exist as a broadcast network, or does it evolve into some other thing?
Pedowitz: I believe that it will stay a broadcast network and morph into other things at the same time. One is not separate from the other. I do believe as a broadcast network you have the ability to get your message out in a less expensive way than buying a bunch of ads, which you’re going to have to do if you’re just a subscription service. It will be simultaneous. Everything will be concurrent, if it goes well.