"All we're doing is kind of mimicking the way our viewers move from platform to platform," said Rick Haskins, the CW's exec VP-marketing. Younger viewers, he said, are "very versatile in watching TV or watching online or even in mobile. ... They are going to like moving back and forth because it's the way they move across media."
The CW, which in its short life has shown an eager willingness to reinvent TV ads, has dubbed this latest ploy "cwingers." While discussions with advertisers are nascent and fluid, Mr. Haskins said he envisions a scenario where a marketer might sponsor an entire cwinger series, with ads on TV and online. Cwingers will appear during the network's "Gossip Girl" program as well as its soon-to-launch "90210," an update of the old Fox "Beverly Hills, 90210" program. Notably, this innovation comes as the fledgling network has run into ratings trouble and its core audience is increasingly watching video in places other than on a TV screen.
Ratings have plummeted with audiences between the ages of 18 and 34, down about 28% as of May 4, according to Wachovia analyst Marci Ryvicker. The network, which is co-owned by CBS and Time Warner, also recently announced that it will cede its Sunday night programming to Media Rights Capital, an independent studio in which WPP Group holds a stake.
The CW's advertising antics often capture the imagination because the network has been willing to test models that ignore broadcast TV's status quo. Everyone gets their fair share of 30-second spots, some more prominent and some less. But the CW's ideas often give one advertiser more of the spotlight while diminishing other marketers' presences.
Since its formation in early 2006, the CW has touted several unusual ad formats, the idea being that its younger viewers won't mind new kinds of disruption so long as they are tied to content they want to see. Advertisers such as Procter & Gamble's Herbal Essences and Pfizer's Listerine have been able to sample "content wraps," or several-minute-long pieces of content tailored to a particular theme. Electronic Arts was one marketer that used "cwickies," or 10-second ads. And "CW Now" appeared as a half-hour newsmagazine show that contained segments from advertisers such as Wal-Mart but was ultimately canceled.
Cwingers, Mr. Haskins said, could appear in the middle or toward the end of a program and will feature a subplot or a deeper focus on a particular character from a show. Ideas under consideration involve a blog from a "90210" character named Silver and a look at what Jenny Humphrey of "Gossip Girl" did over the summer. Cwingers needn't appear in the programs that spawn them; the CW could cross-promote its shows by having a "90210" unit appear in "Gossip Girl" or vice versa. The network has commitments from the producers of each show to create cwinger programming.
In recent weeks, the CW has gotten more aggressive about drawing viewers to TV. It didn't stream the last five episodes of "Gossip Girl" online and also ran "watch and win" contests that allowed viewers to enter to win a "Gossip Girl" party if they found the program's signature "XOXO" in a scene and reported its location within 36 hours of the episode's on-air debut. Mr. Haskins said more than 100,000 viewers logged on to cwtv.com to enter, and more than 50,000 people entered via mobile.
Cwingers are sparking push and pull among ad executives. "That audience is a dual consumer. They are in there with their laptops open, watching TV," said Drew Corry, manager of Amphibian, a digital-buying unit of Interpublic Group's Initiative. Another ad executive is more skeptical. "If you make it hard for me as a viewer, then that's going to be a problem," said Steve Kerho, VP-media analytics and marketing optimization at Omnicom Group's Organic.
Cwings and missesMAY 2006: During its upfront, CW announces it will run content wraps, or mini-programs centered on particular advertisers, during prime-time ad breaks.
MAY 2007: "CW Now" unveiled in 2007-08 lineup. The newsmagazine show features segments sponsored by advertisers. Ratings don't soar, and the show is an early cancellation victim. CW also unveils cwickies, or ads five seconds in length.
APRIL 2008: Says it will not stream the last five episodes of "Gossip Girl" online, an attempt to get fans of the buzzy program to watch it on TV first. The network also unveils a watch and win contest for the show's season finale.
MAY 2008: Announces it will cede its Sunday prime-time block to independent studio Media Rights Capital.
MAY 2008: Unveils cwingers, content that moves from TV to web and back.