Buyers hope less means more as WB-UPN merge

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Media buyers believe the CW, a merger of the lagging broadcast networks of CBS Corp. and Time Warner set to launch this September, could inject additional TV rating points into the marketplace, depending on what the programming mix is and what the independent stations losing their affiliation decide to program in its absence.

While CW didn't unveil which existing series would make it into the new lineup, it is expected to include shows such as UPN's "America's Next Top Model" and "Everybody Hates Chris" and WB shows "Gilmore Girls" and "Beauty and the Geek."

Stronger hours

Consider the math: UPN programs 10 prime-time network hours and WB programs 13. Under the new model, 10 hours-or about 43%-will disappear. But the remaining programming hours will be stronger. Additionally, the several former UPN and WB affiliates who aren't carrying CW will replace their prime-time network lineups with other programming likely to have a broader appeal than the narrowly focused UPN and WB might have had.

"This should produce better product and better ratings," said Jason Maltby, president and co-executive director-national broadcast, MindShare. "If any of them had inefficiencies, it's because they had good shows and underperforming shows."

And the ratings points that aren't recouped aren't disappearing, just shifting to syndication, cable or, perhaps, online.

"We all plan holistically," said Bill McOwen, MPG's exec VP-director of national broadcast. "You're looking for a certain demo and they can be reached on a local independent station as well as a prime-time network buy."

Wait and see

Last week's unveiling of the CW, a merger of the flagging broadcast networks of CBS Corp. and Time Warner, shocked virtually everyone involved in the TV industry. The bet is that by combining CBS's UPN and Time Warner's WB, the venture will produce a stronger network that attracts younger viewers.

Still, media buyers were telling their clients to wait and preview the programming lineup before making any decisions, while syndicators rubbed their hands in anticipation of orphaned stations, many of them News Corp.-owned, that will now need to buy programming to fill their prime times. And savvy observers noted that CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves broke the news of the new network on CNN, the Time Warner-owned property he has been rumored to covet.

The CW will create a fifth broadcast network that will have to compete with Walt Disney Co.'s ABC, General Electric Co.'s CBS, News Corp.'s Fox, and CBS's own CBS.

Dawn Ostroff, UPN's former president who will lead entertainment at the CW, is optimistic that the new network will be able to compete with the big boys. "You've got a lot of people who were watching two nets now under one roof," she said. "When it launches it's going to be considered a formidable opponent instead of being lumped into this two-network category of `net-lets."'

John Maatta, formerly the WB's chief operating officer, assumes the same position at the new network. Bill Morningstar, who formerly headed sales at the WB, will take over as sales chief at the joint venture.

Despite the WB's ratings troubles over the past few years, the network has been successful in getting Big Four-like pricing against its younger demo. UPN, according to buyers, has historically been sold at about a 30% discount compared to other networks. Marketers most likely to be adversely hit with a TV pricing increase are ethnic advertisers who used UPN to reach an African-American audience.

Yet for buyers, the merging of the two struggling networks is a far better outcome than either network folding, of which scenarios have been floated in the past. "We've realized there's an overabundance of inventory out there and this actually tightens up a little bit," said Peggy Green, president-broadcast and entertainment, Zenith Media U.S. "They really couldn't sustain prime time having all those vendors out there in the national marketplace. I'm very happy we will have true independents back."

Now the biggest question is what the newly independent TV stations will program. Fox is the station group most likely to be affected, with several UPN stations in major markets such as New York and Los Angeles. It's not clear what Roger Ailes, who heads the Fox station group, will do-although several speculators suggested he could create a brand-new second broadcast network, using News Corp.'s sports, news and entertainment programming. Mr. Ailes was the architect behind cable news giant Fox News Channel. And syndicators were expecting bigger business from the newly orphaned stations.

Keepers

CW is likely to hang on to these

UPN

* Everybody Hates Chris

* WWE Smackdown

* America’s Next Top Model

* Veronica Mars

The WB

* Smallville

* Gilmore Girls

* Supernatural

* Beauty and the Geek

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