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TV Networks Rush to Stream Video. The CW Has Been Doing It for Years

A lot of TV companies have been through wrenching change in the past year. The CW isn’t one of them.

When advertisers go to the glitzy “upfront” presentations next week, they will, thanks to recent events, see a much smaller Fox; a massive Disney; and a CBS under the aegis of new top executives. But at CW, they will see much of what they’ve seen for the past few years. Even the network’s lineup is relatively stable; the CW has renewed its entire scripted lineup, including five freshman series. Its new series seem part of what’s already on the air: the new “Batwoman” joins a lineup of superhero dramas based on DC characters; “Katy Keene” is a spinoff of “Riverdale’; and “Nancy Drew” adds a detective drama executive produced by people who oversaw “Gossip Girl,” one of the CW’s early break-outs.

“We have heard back from advertisers in each of the meetings we’ve had with them over the course of the year and they say to us, ‘We understand you guys,’” says Rob Tuck, executive vice president of national sales at CW, in an interview. “It gives us an edge. When you turn to the CW, you know what you are getting.” The network is owned jointly by CBS and AT&T’s WarnerMedia.

Many media companies have retooled themselves to meet the needs of consumers who are flocking to on-demand streaming video. Fox sold a large chunk of itself to Disney. AT&T and NBCUniversal are expected to launch new streaming-video hubs over the next year. But the CW has been streaming programs for the past decade – and devised a means of getting advertisers to pay for the views those shows get no matter what screen they are on. That means its executives can spend a little more time developing content for the present and less contemplating an uncertain future.

The CW will vie in weeks ahead for its share of $9 billion to $10 billion in advance ad commitments for its primetime schedule after turning in robust performance in last year’s “upfront” market, all part of the TV industry’s annual “upfront” market. In 2018, the CW saw its volume of commitments rise a whopping 15%, owing to the fact that the network added a new night of programming, on Sunday, to its schedule.

CW commitments in 2018 came to between $564.5 million and $631.8 million, according to Variety estimates, compared with between $490.9 million and $549.4 million in 2017’s negotiations, when the network notched volume gains of between just 3% and 5%.

CW has a novel offer: It’s not looking to launch a new streaming-video hub. It started streaming its programming years ago, offering advertisers a mix of data that gauges online impressions as well as video streams.

Advertisers “are looking to get just as much TV as they used to, but are also looking for exposure in digital platforms,” says Tuck. “They have the ability to overlay more than a certain percentage with us, and we have the ability to deliver it all.”

Tuck says the network has tweaked its offer over the years, but has made certain clients don’t have to do anything extra as video moves to new venues. “Initially, it was just desktop and mobile. Obviously, we are now desktop, mobile, OTT devices and MVPDs,” he says. “The key for the advertisers when we move to these new devices and venues is making sure it’s turnkey.”

Getting another 15% jump in volume this years seems unlikely — there’s not another night in the week CW can expand to – but Tuck believes advertiser demand in the 2019 upfront is likely to be robust. “I do think there is just as much if not greater demand on the TV side,” he says. He expects pharmaceutical advertising to be robust, and sees new demand for TV spots from a bevy of direct-to-consumer advertisers and streaming-video hubs.

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