The Many Lives of The CW

Born from the merger of UPN and The WB, in its 16 years of life The CW has ceased to be just a television network to become a brand, making low-budget series aimed at teenagers its hallmark. Taking advantage of its acquisition by Nexstar, we take a look back at its history, its particular relationship with Netflix, and its possible future.

The C.W.After his training in 2006focused its focus on capturing an audience of young women, an orphaned demographic on free-to-air television at the time, and made its initial schedule with a mix of legacy series from UPN and The WB – Therefore, produced by the two owners of The CW, CBS Studios and Warner Bros -.

Very few managed to renew after that first year, but three of them would be key to creating the identity brand that set The CW apart from its competitors.

One Tree Hilla series about high school that many considered the heir to dawson grows up in the genre, would give way to series like gossip girl, riverdale, All Americanor even The Vampire Diarieswhich mixed the high school genre with the fantastic genre – in this case vampires – that worked so well for the chain with another of its series inherited from The WB, Supernaturala fantastical procedural about two brothers who hunt demons and other supernatural beings that would become the longest running series in the network’s history with fifteen seasons.

In its first years of life, the series that passed its first season can be counted on the fingers of one hand

Lastly, there would be no arrowversea television universe started by Arrow and composed of six series – or more, if we take into account the multiverse -, without smallvillea drama about the adolescence of a young man named Clark Kent, who, spoiler, would end up becoming Superman.

However, in its first five years of life, the series that passed its first season can be counted on the fingers of one hand: the aforementioned gossip girl Y The Vampire Diaries, Sensation of Living: The New Generationfourth series of the franchise Beverly Hills, Nikitabased on the film by Luc Besson, Reapers Y an unexpected lifeboth canceled after only two seasons, and the sports comedy The gamewhich was moved to BET after four seasons and has recently returned with new episodes on Paramount+.

That creative and audience crisis came to an end in 2011 with the arrival of Mark Pedowitz for president. One of his first changes was the modification of the network’s target demographic, which went from being young women, to young men of both genders, putting in development Arrow for regain a male audience that had been abandoned despite the success of smallville Y Supernatural. However, this capture of the male demographic was not going to make the network radically improve its audiences and surpass majors like CBS or ABC.

frame of riverdaleone of the most watched series on The CW

For this reason, in that same year what could be considered the first major streaming agreement was signed: Netflix would pay The CW a billion dollars in exchange for their series automatically reaching the platform in the United States, a week after the broadcast of the season finale on the network.

This agreement was beneficial for both parties, on the one hand Netflix, which had not yet started its original production, would obtain a large number of exclusive series in its catalog during eight yearsand on the other hand The CW would get a Big amount of money thanks to which his series would be profitable. In addition, he would gain the possibility that, with a second window on Netflix, his series would gain viewers from one season to another, something that happened with riverdalewhose average audience between the first and second seasons increased from 1.7 million to 2.1 million, or All Americanwhich went from 900,000 viewers in its first season to 1.2 million in the second and 1.4 million in the third.

The CW had always been a paradox. His high school series like gossip girl either Riverdale, his superhero television universe or his vampire trilogy started in The Vampire Diaries they were extremely popular with teen audiences, and yet low ratings always left The CW behind the other free-to-air networks, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. The popularity of his series was evident, but it was not reflected in the audience data. The reason is simpler than it seems: his series were not seen live on television, but on Netflix.

Older people watch TV and young people watch streaming

One of the most surprising facts from The CW is that its average audience is 58 years old, something striking when your target demographic is between the ages of 18-34. The reason, generalizing and simplifying, is that older people watch TV and younger people watch streaming. The CW is a network for people who do not watch television on television, which does not mean that the viewers of its series are 58 years old, but that young people who watch shows on The CW don’t watch them on The CWand therefore its audience did not match its popularity and conversation in networks.

frame of All American

In the last decade, The CW became known as the network that changed everything. If a series renewed for a second season, it was guaranteed to reach a minimum of the fourth. There were series that were renewed not thanks to their audience, but to good reviews that gave prestige to the chain, being examples of this Jane the Virgin either Crazy Ex Girlfriend. It was difficult to understand, however, why, year after year, series with extremely low audiences and without especially good reviews were renewed, such as Dynasty either in the darkhaving even renovations before the premiere of the season.

We had the answer when Nielsen began publishing its streaming audiences in 2020, and Netflix its own in 2021. In them, The CW series with very low open audiences managed to be the most watched, even surpassing the numbers of the best. Netflix original series –All American Y Dynasty they managed weeks with 44 and 48 million minutes viewed respectively -.

The CW series work so well on Netflix that even the platform began to make its own

The CW renewed everything because with its viewings on Netflix it was profitable to produce them, and it broadcast the series with the lowest audience until the fourth season because, in addition to the fact that a series has more value if it has a closed ending, that is usually when the time to renew contracts and pay more money to the actors – the reason also why so many Netflix series end in the fourth season -.

The CW series work so well on Netflix that even the platform began to make its own. Examples like Destiny: the winx saga, Outer Banks, The Warrior Nun or even some non-English speaking ones like Elite either Young Highnesses They are series that could have been broadcast perfectly on The CW. And the platform even bought and broadcast series discarded by the chain in its development phase, such as insatiable either Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

In fact, it was usual that when referring to the low production quality of a series, it was said that it looked like it was from The CW, but now more and more people say that it looks like a Netflix series, and it could be said that the chain is one of the culprits that the platform began to prioritize the quantity versus quality and to launch series with a low level of production.

frame of Jane The Virgin

The beginning of the streaming era was also the beginning of the end for The CW., at least how we know it. Given the success of Netflix, and to a lesser extent other platforms such as Hulu or Prime Video, all the studios decided to make their own platform on which to make their series available, instead of selling their rights to third parties.

Warner, one of the owners of The CW, launches HBO Max, and the other, Paramount – which after several mergers acquired CBS Studios -, Paramount+. For this reason, in 2019 it was decided not to renew the contract with Netflix, which would mean that the new seasons of the series that had been released during the eight years of the agreement would continue to arrive there exclusively, but those that were released after that date would reach the platform of their respective study or would be sold to the highest bidder. With the disappearance of both Netflix’s money and that of international chains and platforms – HBO Max is in almost the entire world, so it does not sell its series to other countries, but rather incorporates them into its catalog -, The CW series stopped being profitable and became a simple back catalog.

Given the increasingly strong rumors of a possible sale, In May 2022, The CW canceled ten series. -more than half of its grill-, leaving several with an open end. Something that had not happened in the chain for years and that was indicative that something was about to change. A few months later, nextstar became the new majority owner of The CW by acquiring 75% of its shares.

It is very possible that this will be the future programming of The CW: small low-budget series

The chain had not been profitable since 2006, the year it was created, and it represented such an economic loss for Warner and Paramount that they not only gave it to Nexstar for free to get rid of it, but after tax settlements the new owners earned 54 million dollars with the acquisition of the chain without spending a single penny.

The apparent only condition is that, in the current television season, 2022-2023, they broadcast the series that were already in production. Nevertheless, Flash, riverdale, stargirl Y nancy drew They have already announced their end, and everything seems to indicate that they will not be the only ones, and that they will only survive Walker and its prequel Walker: Independencea series that fits with the conservative ideology of Nexstar.

Nexstar has a goal of making The CW profitable by 2025, and that’s something that can’t be done without deep budget cuts. To take care of it, they have appointed a new president Brad Schwarz, an executive who will try to do at The CW what he did at POP when he was its president. POP is a small cable network that gained prestige with the broadcast in the United States of the Canadian comedy Schitt’s Creek, which swept the Emmys in its last season thanks to the visibility provided by Netflix. POP was characterized by its low-budget comedies such as Nightcap, Let’s Get Physical, Florida Girls either Day to day after its cancellation on Netflix, and it is very possible that this will be the future programming of The CW, small low-budget series. Until now, The CW series cost two million dollars per episode, but Nexstar intends to cut it in half, something striking if we take into account that it was already the lowest-budget open channel.

frame of Flash

In a time when franchises are worth goldThe CW leaves many high-value IPs in its path. gossip girl already has a revival on HBO Max, Supernatural has a prequel in the chain itself that still has a chance to survive, and others like riverdale either The Vampire Diaries They will end up coming back sooner or later.

And of course, once the inevitable cancellations arrive, there is the possibility that platforms such as HBO Max, Paramount + or Netflix give new seasons to these series. What is clear is that, although it has not died, it will no longer be that chain that we have all loved and enjoyed, that was not afraid to risk and experiment, and that always put his audience first.

In 2006 The CW was born, in 2011 it evolved thanks to Netflix, and in 2023 it will start a new life that is cheaper, but hopefully just as entertaining.

Written by
Gabriel Cebrian

in November 2022.

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The Many Lives of The CW