CW goes digital with iTunes

'Supernatural,' 'Veronica Mars' make debut online

Three months after its launch, the CW is finally embracing digital distribution.

In the past week, two of the net’s signature dramas — “Supernatural” and “Veronica Mars” — made their debut on iTunes, marking the first time CW skeins have been available for sale via the Internet. Other skeins from the netlet are expected to follow soon.

Season three of “Mars” is already an online hit, ranking ahead of season one of NBC’s red-hot “Heroes” late last week on iTunes.

Creation of a CW page on iTunes means all five broadcast nets now are offering their wares on Apple’s site.

Rick Haskins, exec VP of marketing and brand strategy for the CW, said the iTunes launch is the beginning of a major digital push.

Later this month, Web site CWTV.com will begin beta-testing a new videoplayer that will stream full-length episodes of CW skeins, with commercials. Player officially launches in January.

Net is still finalizing which skeins will be streamed, but it’s a safe bet “Supernatural” and “Veronica Mars” — both produced by CW co-owner Warner Bros. TV — will be among the offerings. Studio is letting CW stream its fare in exchange for the right to sell downloads of episodes.

“Everybody Hates Chris” and “America’s Next Model” also might end up on CWTV.com.

While the CW is still tweaking its videoplayer, Haskins said the net’s goal is to give users maximum flexibility.

In addition to streaming full episodes, users will be able to take out one- or two-minute clips to email to friends. CW also will offer the ability to “tear away” episodes so Web surfers can watch while leaving the net’s Web site to engage in other activities, like email or instant messaging.

The CW now offers behind-the-scenes footage and short clips on its Web site and lets users mix clips to make their own promotions for its programs.

“We want to be where our viewers are, and they’re everywhere,” Haskins said.

CBS, NBC and ABC already stream a handful of shows on their own Web sites for free, while Fox does the same on News Corp.-owned MySpace and through some of its affils.

All nets are in talks with video-sharing sites to spread their content across the Web. CBS already has a content-distribution and revenue-sharing deal with YouTube.