Can the CW make TV a five horse race?
The new network created from the merger of the UPN and WB is hoping to catch up to big boys ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC with a focus on younger viewers.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Media giants CBS and Time Warner are hoping that one plus one will add up to five.
The two companies, which announced in January that they were merging their UPN and WB networks to create a new network called the CW, unveiled the fall schedule for the CW on Thursday at an event in New York. Time Warner (Research) also owns CNNMoney.com.
Despite several hits, neither UPN nor WB ever became more than a niche network catering largely to younger viewers and, in the case of the UPN, an African-American audience. Ratings for the two networks separately paled in comparison to those of the big four networks: ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.
But executives from the CW expressed optimism at the network's first upfront presentation for advertisers, noting they took the best shows from both UPN and WB to create their new lineup.
"Determining this lineup was like playing fantasy football but with TV shows," said Dawn Ostroff, CW head of entertainment, at the upfront event.
The 2006-2007 schedule for the CW includes six popular shows from the old WB and six from the UPN, including "Everybody Hates Chris," "Veronica Mars," "Smallville" and "The Gilmore Girls." Only two new shows will debut on the CW this fall.
"The CW is one of the big boys from the get-go," said Bill Morningstar, the executive vice president of national sales for the CW.
Greater than the sum of its parts?
Several industry analysts also said that they liked what they saw.
"It looks like they put together a strong lineup. The network should do better together than the UPN and WB did separately," said Mark Fratrik, vice president with BIA Financial Network, a strategic consulting firm for the media and communications industries.
During the presentation, Ostroff also highlighted how viewers will be able to view CW shows and related content through the Web, cell phones and on Apple's iPod media player. Ostroff added that the CW's Web site will feature several interactive and social networking elements catering to the network's mostly younger audience.
She also introduced a concept that the network called "content wraps": mini-shows that would appear three times a night during commercials that could be sponsored by advertisers and feature product promotion.
Each "content wrap" would tell a story. The example Ostroff gave was of two people going on a blind date.
One media buyer said that the concept was interesting and that if done effectively could keep viewers from using digital video recorders (DVRs) to fast forward through ads.
"The content wraps looked smart. It's the type of opportunity that marketers want," said Brad Adgate, senior vice president of corporate research for Horizon Media, a marketing firm. He added that younger viewers in particular may be interested in these types of mini-shows.
And along those lines, Ostroff said the CW intends to have a "laser-focus" on the 18-34 year old demographic and claimed that it is the only network with such a commitment to this group.
News Corp. could be tough competition
MyNetworkTV, like the CW, has agreements with affiliate stations which will allow it to reach more than 90 percent of the country and will be exclusively showing soap operas on a nightly basis that feature mostly young casts and appears to be targeted at exactly the same audience the CW is going after.
Nonetheless, Adgate said that the CW probably should fare well as it begins to negotiate with marketers for ad commitments. But he thinks advertisers shouldn't expect a runaway ratings surge overnight.
"The CW should do very well in the upfront. There a lot of advertisers that want to go after 18-34 year olds," Adgate said. "But I don't think the CW will necessarily double its ratings because of the merger."
One factor that could cause the CW some ratings trouble is tough competition from that other network owned by News Corp: Fox. It also has a strong focus on younger viewers.
Fox unveiled its fall lineup on Thursday morning as well and it will show previews of new shows to advertisers on Thursday afternoon. Fox is the last of the six prime-time networks to make its upfront presentation.
Fox, which is currently riding high in the 18-49 demographic thanks to hits such as "House," "24," "Prison Break" and some show called "American Idol," is bringing back most of this year's successful lineup. It is introducing only five new shows for the fall.
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