CW Sells Sunday Night to Outside Programmer

Media Rights Capital to Fill Block Used for Repeats

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Just days before it presents its next season's slate of programming to marketers, CW revealed it was turning Sunday nights over to an independent production company that will attempt to broaden the network's reach.

CW, which launched last year off a platform that promised to deliver teens and young adults in droves, is forming a strategic alliance with Media Rights Capital to program the network's Sunday night prime-time block for the 2008-2009 broadcast season. The agreement takes effect in the fall and will result in four new programs -- two comedies and two dramas. The network is prepared to unveil the new shows at its upfront presentation on the evening of May 13, said Keith Samples, president-television, Media Rights Capital.

Targeting a broader audience
While the CW is known for shows such as the buzzy "Gossip Girl" and "Smallville" that are aimed at viewers between the ages of 18 and 34, Sunday nights will be programmed to reach a broader audience, people between 18 and 49, Mr. Samples said. Executives from WPP Group, the British ad-holding company that is an investor in MRC, and Tribune Co., the largest owner of CW-affiliated local stations, guided the production company to that idea, Mr. Samples said. WPP owns several media-buying agencies under Group M.

The maneuver illustrates the difficult situation being faced by CW, which is jointly owned by Time Warner and CBS Corp. While it reaches a consumer demographic that is notoriously hard to find, its ratings have been abysmal in its second full season on the air.

As of May 4, the network's ratings among households have fallen 22%, while its ratings among audiences between 18-49 have tumbled 24%, according to research from Wachovia broadcasting analyst Marci Ryvicker.

While the network's flagship program, "Gossip Girl," generated a lot of attention and its ad executives have devised innovative experimental formats for broadcast TV, it needs to figure out a way to boost its ratings. In a telling move, CW announced it would take the last five episodes of this season's run of "Gossip Girl" off the web and not allow consumers to stream it. Instead, it is running promotions designed to entice fans to watch the episodes on TV first and foremost.

CW was already airing repeats on Sunday nights, so this is a way to get fresh programming without more investment. MRC "will bring a slate of high-quality entertainment to our air on the most competitive night on TV, while we will focus our resources and efforts on strengthening our Monday through Friday schedule," Dawn Ostroff, CW's president-entertainment, said in a prepared statement.

Only one media plan
Advertisers ought not be confused, said MRC's Mr. Samples. "There will only be one media plan put out to buyers. The look and feel [of the network] will be very much the same. The hope is that by doing slightly different programming with a little bit different target demographic and [with] the support of the Tribune stations in terms of promoting that night and working together, we can expand the whole network." Still, who will sell ads for Sunday night remains to be determined, according to a person familiar with the situation.

MRC's upcoming TV projects for networks other than CW include "The Goode Family" for ABC; "Outnumbered" for Fox; "The Life and Times of Tim," premiering in June on HBO; "Rita Rocks" and "Libertyville" for Lifetime Television; "Krod Mandoon" for Comedy Central; and a newly conceived "Name That Tune" in a cross-network arrangement between MTV, VH-1 and CMT. MRC is producing digital projects, including an original series with Raven-Symone and an upcoming animated series with original characters created by Seth MacFarlane, creator of "Family Guy," with initial distribution through Google and YouTube.
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