CW Strikes Hulu Deal To Score More Revenue For Programs

Five-Year Pact Follows Netflix Agreement for Streaming CW Reruns

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'The Vampire Diaries'
'The Vampire Diaries' Credit: The CW

The CW wants viewers to watch its shows -- so much that it's increasingly adding ways to watch them in venues other than the CW.

Just a few weeks after striking a deal for Netflix to stream reruns of its shows, The CW said Friday it has negotiated a pact with Hulu letting the site show current, in-season CW programming.

Under the terms of the agreement, Hulu will only show in-season episodes of The CW's dramas and reality shows through its paid Hulu Plus service, with the five most recent episodes of each show available to subscribers the day after broadcast. Users of the free, ad-supported Hulu service will be able to watch five episodes of current-season programming eight days after airing on The CW.

The programming, set to be available later this year, will include the nine series currently on the netowrk's fall schedule. Among those involved: "Ringer," "Hart of Dixie," "The Secret Circle," as "Supernatural," "Nikita," "90210" and "America's Next Top Model."

The five-year licensing agreement gives broader distribution to some of broadcast-TV's lowest-rated programs. A joint venture of CBS Corp. and Time Warner cobbled together from the remains of the WB and UPN networks in 2006, the CW has encountered a daunting media landscape in its short life. By many indications it has steadily lost money. And even though the CW is a broadcast network, top-tier cable operations including NBC Universal's USA and Time Warner 's TNT and TBS each snared more ad revenue than the CW last year, according to data from Kantar. International distribution of its programs is what presumably helps the network's two corporate owners, often the owners of the studios that create CW shows, make money from the venture.

But the CW has recently been exploring distribution agreements that bring in new revenue for its TV shows, which are popular among hard-to-reach young adults. That audience is already more likely than other demographics to view shows such as "Gossip Girl" and "The Vampire Diaries" -- two CW staples -- in ways that don't show up in traditional Nielsen ratings and thus don't help drive on-air ad revenue.

"As we increase the amount of year round original programming on The CW, this deal provides our shows with greater exposure on a new platform, helping build even more awareness that will drive viewers back to the network and its affiliates," said Mark Pedowitz, president of the CW, in a statement.

The new digital distribution seems designed to protect the network's existing revenue streams. By delaying availability of the programs on the free Hulu service, CW presumably forces the majority of potential viewers to watch the shows either on the network or on its website, Last season, CW started an ambitious effort that involved selling ad inventory during shows across TV and its website.

The CW seems to have grown more aggressive about monetizing its programming in the face of difficult consumer trends. More viewers are prone to watching their favorite TV content in ways that do not involve traditional TV, a tough fact of life for a young TV network that is still trying to refine its identity. The Hulu and Netflix deals come after Mr. Pedowitz, a veteran ABC operating exective, joined the network last spring.

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