Mr. Morningstar will head up ad sales at the new MLB cable network, slated to begin operations in January of 2009. His departure come just before the CW enters into what many believe is a crucial 2008-2009 broadcast season. Mr. Morningstar could not be reached for comment. News of his negotiations with Major League Baseball was reported earlier on The Wall Street Journal's website.
The CW has made a name for itself with shows that reach young female consumers -- including "Gossip Girl" and "America's Next Top Model," a holdover from UPN -- but saw a massive slide in ratings in the recently completed season.
The CW's challenge
Because it reaches a demographic that is increasingly at home with watching entertainment online and via mobile devices, the CW has struggled to post TV-audience ratings significant enough to please advertisers.
Under Mr. Morningstar's watch, the CW took in around $909 million in 2007, according to TNS Media Intelligence, compared with about $284.5 million in 2006 (the network started broadcasting in the fall of that year). Mr. Morningstar and his staff have championed experimenting with ad formats, including minutes-long "content wraps" that tell a story over the course of an entire ad break; "cwickies," or five-second ads; and, soon to come, "cwingers," ads that travel along with stories that are told in multiple parts on TV and online.
Media buyers say they'd like the network to stick around, despite marketplace speculation that the CW has one more year to prove itself. "I feel as though they continue to be a viable alternative to reach the young female audience," said Larry Novenstern, exec VP-director of national broadcast at Publicis Groupe's Optimedia. "The more alternatives we have, the better it is for us and for our clients."
Changes for the fall
Advertisers liked what they saw in May when the CW presented its coming fall schedule. In addition to "Gossip Girl," the network is launching a remake of "Beverly Hills 90210," simply called "90210," that will feature cameos by actors from the original series.
At the same time, the CW has ceded control of its Sunday night schedule to Media Rights Capital, an independent studio that intends to run programming slightly different from the female-skewing material for which the network is known. With less time to sell, the CW secured between $350 million and $375 million in ad commitments in its upfront sales this year, down from last year's range of $630 million to $650 million.
Despite the CW's relative youth, Mr. Morningstar has been with the network and its precedent, the WB network, for more than a decade.