Why The CW Is Happy to Grow Up

And Why Advertisers Are Eager to See It

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'The Flash,' part of a programming strategy that has helped the CW add 10 years to its median viewer age.
'The Flash,' part of a programming strategy that has helped the CW add 10 years to its median viewer age.  Credit: CW

The CW is no Peter Pan.

Once dubbed the "Gossip Girl" network for bubble-gum shows that predominantly attracted teen girls, The CW has grown up over the last three years. And while most TV networks tirelessly try to bring down the age of their audiences, The CW will be eagerly boasting about its new maturity during this year's upfront presentations to ad buyers.

"A few years ago our TV and digital audiences were the same," said Rob Tuck, exec VP-national sales, The CW. "Now we can show clients we are hitting an older demo, which wasn't the case when we were a 12-to-34 network."

Few other programmers want to show clients anything of the sort, amid an industry-wide greying of audiences, but ad execs say The CW is different.

"Aging up slightly, but still being the youngest and having a broader appeal, is all positive for them," said Billie Gold, VP-director of buying and programming research, Carat.

The CW has spent several years revamping its image with a slate more heavily skewed toward supernatural, sci-fi and superhero themes, including shows like "Arrow," "The Flash" and its newest addition, "iZombie." Advertisers can expect more shows in the sane vein next season.

These series have successfully attracted both an older, broader audience, as well as more male viewers. The network is having its most-watched season since 2007-08, with its prime-time audience up about 11% season-to-date to 2.1 million total viewers. The CW has also seen its 18-to-49 demo grow about 3% to 1 million from last season.

During its early conversations with advertisers leading into this summer's upfront negotiations, The CW is highlighting how its audience is now more evenly split among male and females, with women consisting of 54% of its viewership, down from 66% in the 2006-07 season. And its median age increased to 43 years old from 33 less than a decade ago.

An older audience is welcome for The CW, even an increase as big as 10 years, partly because adults have more disposable income on advertisers' products. Also important: Older audiences tend to have more stable traditional TV viewing, a positive in an ecosystem where digital viewership is especially difficult to monetize, Ms. Gold said.

The CW was one of the first TV networks to really have to worry about 18-to-34-year-olds (and younger) shifting to non-linear products, said Neil Vendetti, exec VP-national video activation, Zenith. That forced the network to make its content available on digital platforms, which Mr. Vendetti said began to cannibalize its traditional ratings.

The CW's pivot toward older audiences was the smart response, Mr. Vendetti said. It has also opened the network up to a larger group of advertisers, including financials and autos.

"Moving into the 18-to-49 demo helped us gain traction with clients and categories that wouldn't give us the time of day because we were too young and too female," Mr. Tuck said.

While The CW may be bringing in a slightly more sophisticated viewer, Mr. Tuck said the network hasn't lost its focus. "We are still young, but the reality is the younger audience is going to digital and the older audience is watching on traditional TV."

Digital viewership is up 20% from last year and comprises about 20% of The CW's total audience, according to the network.

On its digital platforms, The CW said its median age is 26 years old. So when linear viewing and digital are combined, the median age for the network's programming is around 35 years old, which is still significantly younger than other broadcasters. The median age for network TV is 55 years old, Ms. Gold noted.

Mr. Vendetti said if advertisers aggregate across all of The CW's screens they can still reach a millennial audience.

"Digital keeps us young," Mr. Tuck said.

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