Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Well Ain't That A Kick In The Gonads

UPN and The WB will be merging to become the CW Network starting this fall.

Here I was, planning to take advantage of actually getting my TV on DVD stuff done on time for once by waxing a bit nostalgic about the newly cancelled West Wing and they dump this on me.

According to the Reuters report the new network will be a "50-50 joint venture" between CBS-Paramount (owners of UPN) and Warner Brothers Television.

Worth noting is the attitudes of the two corporate heads about their existing networks. Les Moonves said, "UPN was approaching a point where we were hoping to break even, and we were getting close." On the other hand Barry Meyer CEO of Warner Brothers Entertainment said, "We saw coming down the pike a challenged landscape to keep (WB) alive." Both expressed hopes for long term profitability for the merged network, which will follow the WB's programming plan of broadcasting Monday through Friday from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern and Sundays from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. with a primetime block running from 7 to 10. There will also be a Monday to Friday afternoon block from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern, and a five hour Saturday morning animation block for a total of about 30 hours weekly. Tribune Corporation has signed its sixteen WB affiliates to a ten year deal with the new network and CBS has done the same with its ten UPN affiliates. Dawn Ostroff, currently head of Entertainment at UPN will take the same role at CW while John Maatta, Chief Operating Officer at The WB will become COO at the new network.

In a press release Moonves stated, "This new network will serve the public with high-quality programming and maintain our ongoing commitment to our diverse audience. It will clearly be greater than the sum of its parts, delivering excellent demographics to advertisers, and building a strong new affiliate body. Additionally, The CW will be able to draw from the creative talent and production resources from the top two television production studios in the business, while also seeking programming from all sources - independent producers or other studios. With this move, we will be creating a viable entity, one well-equipped to compete, thrive and serve all our many publics in this multi-channel media universe."

The new network starts with a wide variety of programming assets to draw upon including: America's Next Top Model, Beauty and the Geek, Smallville, Gilmore Girls, Supernatural, Veronica Mars, Everybody Hates Chris, Girlfriends and Reba. The WWE's Smackdown, which has been a mainstay at UPN, is expected to play a role in the schedule (UPN's contract with the WWE was up for renegotiation).

According to the analysis provided by The Street, "Both WB and UPN have had brief periods of ratings success, with the younger-skewing WB in particular enjoying a period of rising fortune. But neither has achieved ongoing ability to establish itself as a network ratings leader. The result: high TV production and marketing costs and declining audiences for television have put pressure on both networks. Together they should be able to reduce costs and overhead. A merger also brings scale to the combined entity, allowing it to better compete in a world with a fragmented audience." On the other hand Now Playing Magazine's website headlined its coverage "UPN and WB to Merge; Viewers Likely Won’t Notice"

The Big Question of course is what the new network will show. The list of shows that are "likely safe" includes Veronica Mars, America's Next Top Model and Everybody Hates Chris from UPN and Smallville, Gilmore Girls and Supernatural from The WB, with Smackdown's continued availability probably dependent on negotiations with the WWE (it wouldn't break my heart if it weren't there though). The suspicion from a lot of people though is that the programming from the new network will have a high content of WB shows continuing. I think it's also possible that the new network will take the opportunity to clean house and develop the bulk of the new lineup as new shows.

Getting beyond press releases we come to the question of what it all means. There's at least one thing that most people won't pick up on and that is that there is going to be a sudden increase in the number of independent stations in areas where either UPN or The WB have affiliates that are competing with CBS or Tribune owned affiliates of the new network. It's possible that we might see a slight revival of the first run syndication market, particularly since many of these stations will be in the top 25 markets. What does the Los Angeles UPN affiliate show when there are no more UPN shows available to it?

Oh, and the name? It's very pedestrian - it's the first letters of CBS and Warner Brothers. According to BrandWeek.com Moonves quipped "We couldn't call it the WC for obvious reasons."

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