Warner Bros.' WB Network and Paramount's UPN appeared in January, but their first-season ratings didn't match the hoopla over their debuts. Still, the strong current ad market should help buoy short-term fortunes.
As they set sights on their second seasons, WB and UPN are looking to build targeted audiences, develop brand identities and fill voids left by other networks. Whether advertisers will follow for the long run, however, remains to be seen.
"They have to establish a face; the rest will fall in place," says Werner Michel, senior partner at BJK&E Media Group, New York.
With a professed focus on young and urban families, teens and children, WB expands in the fall season from Wednesdays to its second night, Sunday, with five new shows and some star power. The schedule features programs starring Ellen Cleghorne from "Saturday Night Live," Kirk Cameron from "Growing Pains" and Jackie Guerra in next season's only Hispanic comedy.
WB, meanwhile, picked up "Sister, Sister" from ABC and brought back its own "The Parent 'Hood," "The Wayans Bros." and "Unhappily Ever After."
"The Frog," as WB informally calls itself, makes a big play for kids with a full Saturday morning cartoon lineup, weekday classic Looney Tunes and Steven Spielberg's "Animaniacs" cartoons. A wacky, more colorful logo will be used to brand itself with kids.
"We're basically an all cartoon and comedy network," says Jamie Kellner, managing partner of WB. "In some ways, that's a little frightening, but we're trying to be an alternative.
"In the early part of the development season, we realized nobody is going to do family comedy any more," he adds. "If ABC gets up off their seat-and we think it's an attractive one-we're going to plunk down."
UPN sticks to using dramas on Mondays and Tuesdays to deliver young men. It will launch three hour-long dramas-"Nowhere Man," "Deadly Games" and "Live Shot"-to go with its cornerstone "Star Trek: Voyager."
"We're taking action against what we believe to be a glut of sitcoms," says Lucie Salhany, president-CEO of UPN.
Despite the networks' efforts at distinction, some agency media buyers still profess confusion or lukewarm satisfaction about what the new networks want to be.
"Do they want to be the next ABC or next Fox or unload the programs they can't sell to other networks?" wonders Mr. Michel.
Others were more enthusiastic about the lineup.
"They remain true to what they wanted to be," says Betsy Frank, exec VP-director of strategic media resources at Zenith Media Services, New York, a unit of Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising. "If they get one show from their new ones that work, that gives them a tent pole for the night."
But scoring hit programs may not be as easy as it used to be, since the TV business has changed so much since Fox's emergence.
"The reality is if it wasn't easy for Fox-and it wasn't-then it will be even harder for them," Ms. Frank says.
First-season ratings for both new nets were weak, according to Nielsen Media Research.
WB finished at 1.9, leaving many new affiliates with lower numbers than when they were independent, and UPN at 4.3, mostly on the strength of "Voyager."
Yet while ad agencies want more and better programs, they don't seem to be too concerned about small audience shares for now. Ms. Frank notes cable networks provide strategic media options.
"We're all realistic when looking at ratings," she says. "I don't think [ratings] are growing anymore."
"You have to go after segments of an audience, in their position," says Robert Igiel, exec VP-director of broadcast buying and programming, Young & Rubicam, New York. "I certainly think it will be a slow growth."