Increasing commercial loads online paying off

The CW’s target audience of adults 18-34 spends increasing amounts of time online and on mobile devices, so the netlet has a particular interest in making hay with non-TV platforms.

Now, a year after implementing its “convergence of screens” strategy, which increases the commercial load for online episodes to the same levels as what’s delivered to TV sets, CW has reasons to be encouraged.

The good news comes at an auspicious moment: CW’s upfront presentation starts this week, and its leadership is in transition.

L.A.-based CW entertainment prexy Dawn Ostroff is leaving to spend more time with her New York-based family, with former Disney-ABC exec Mark Pedowitz succeeding her (and taking on even more responsibility as head of CW’s business side as well). The leadership change comes with CW lagging far behind the other four broadcast networks in audience, but trying to build momentum among younger auds.

Whether CW can become more than a footnote in the network game — it occasionally scores breakthroughs with such series as “The Vampire Diaries” or “America’s Next Top Model” — might depend greatly on whether it succeeds as an online trendsetter with viewership and ad sales.

“It’s easy to keep things status quo rather than change the norm,” says CW exec veep of national sales Rob Tuck. “But there’s a hunger for (more revenue from online ad sales.)”

Among the key findings: the CW’s online audience has shown itself willing to accept the same number of commercials online as is shown on TV.

“We’re at full load,” Tuck says. “The load we have on our TV is the same we have on our online player.”

The commercials aren’t being ignored, either, with 94% of the CW’s online ads having been watched to completion.

Additionally, ads on CWTV.com had same-to-better viewer recall as sites that only showed one or two commercials per break, according to Nielsen IAG research.

“Our audience, the young consumer, really does retain advertising, likes advertising and gets the messaging,” Tuck says. “Young consumers definitely do respond to advertising.”

Developed during the winter of 2009-10, alongside the implementation of a new online player, CW introduced its convergence strategy to ad buyers in March 2010. Tuck says that by the time of that year’s upfronts in May, CW had 90% participation from buyers.

“The clients were already knowledgeable about what we were going to do,” Tuck says. “All the legwork on behalf of the sales staff and agencies was already in progress. … Since then, the few guys that have been outside of the loop, (came) on board through the scatter market.

“You can have some of the greatest ideas, but if you can’t get the client to buy into your concept, it’s not going anywhere.”

The convergence strategy of CW, whose top programs also include “Supernatural” and “90210,” rests on several pillars: it delivers the specific demo info that advertisers need, it includes technology that ensures ads of competing clients don’t run in proximity to each other and it doesn’t allow ads to repeat ad nauseum.

“You would play an hour of a show, and it was the same message in every single break,” Tuck says. “I think after a while, the consumer … was tired of seeing the same advertising over and over again. ‘OK, I get it, I get it.’ Now we’re giving them a variety.”

What does all this mean for the future of CW? Online efforts can’t solve the network’s low broadcast viewer totals, but it does seem to be providing a gateway to an expanded audience. CW has found that 93% of its online viewers are new viewers to the given episode. (Episodes don’t head to CWTV.com until at least 75 hours after their TV broadcast, to preserve the CW’s C3 ratings — a measurement of commercials watched live and on DVRs in the first three days after airing.)

That means that either half of CW’s audience is consciously making a choice to wait and watch online, or CW is doubling its smallscreen viewership thanks to its online offerings.

Each scenario provides a foundation for CW’s future, however modest.

“I think it definitely puts us on the right track,” Tuck says. “It’s good for us to lead in this sense because of who we are and the demographic we are going after. But time will tell — the TV business has a lot of competition out there.”

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