CW Sees Upfront Wrapping With Rebound in Demand for TV, Streaming Ads (EXCLUSIVE)

Riverdale TV Review The CW
Courtesy of The CW

A new lineup of Saturday programming and a surge of post-pandemic spending by Madison Avenue helped the CW boost its volume of advertising commitments in TV’s annual “upfront” market, a sign that advertisers continue to make the medium a central part of their plans even as they are showing new interest in chasing viewers to new streaming venues.

The network, jointly owned by ViacomCBS and AT&T’s WarnerMedia, has wrapped its upfront negotiations, according to a person familiar with the matter, and believes it has obtained a greater volume of advertising for its next programming cycle than it did in 2020. The network expects an increase in the volume of advertising committed to both its linear fall schedule as well as its digital extensions, this person said.

That would be hard not to do. Most TV networks saw ad volume decrease significantly last year as the coronavirus pandemic forced big marketers to pull tight their purse strings and scuttled live sports events and the production of new TV episodes. The CW, home to series like “The Flash” and “Riverdale,” basically filled its schedule with series imported from other sources and pushed back the launch of its main season for weeks.

This year is different. The CW said it would launch a new night of Saturday programming, offering “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and “World’s Funniest Animals” for the fall. While the night is one of the least-viewed broadcast evenings of the week, the network is offering it at a time when TV ratings are in decline and advertisers are scrambling to generate enough impressions among consumers to build awareness. With higher demand chasing a more limited supply of linear TV audiences, even a few hours on Saturdays are welcome this year.

The CW sought hikes in the rate of reaching 1,000 viewers, a metric known as a CPM that is central to these annual discussions between TV networks and Madison Avenue. The CW pressed for CPM hikes of between 19% and a range in the low 20% area, according to the person familiar with the matter. In 2020, with little leverage in the market, the CW and other networks were able to secure increases of just 3% to 4% for top inventory.

Determining any individual network’s volume this year is an indefinite process at best. Most TV networks kept their sales process open for weeks beyond the upfront’s typical time frame, with some deals calling for spending to start in 2021. Media buyers are estimating that volume may be up for the next cycle by 2% to 6%, but it’s not clear if that includes dollars earmarked for digital and streaming.

Variety projected that overall primetime volume for the nation’s five English language networks was off by 15% to 20% for the 2020-2021 season, and estimated the CW may have seen primetime commitments fall to between $440.8 million and $597.1 million, compared with between $592.7 million and $663.4 million for the previous season. Using the new estimates, it’s possible that CW’s volume of primetime ad commitments for 2021-2022 could stand at between $449.6 million and $632.9 million.