CW network: The new kid on the television block is working off a new marketing model

Monday, September 18th 2006, 11:34 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Rick Haskins, marketing chief for the fledgling CW network, does more than talk about reaching prospective viewers one at a time.

At a recent CW promotion at a Los Angeles mall, Haskins volunteered to help operate a 300-degree-plus decal machine printing network slogans onto free T-shirts for an unexpectedly big crowd of several thousand.

Each phrase represented a CW show _ ``Free To Be Witty'' for ``Gilmore Girls,'' ``Free To Be Super'' for ``Smallville'' _ and each shirt was integral to an innovative effort to sell a new network that's, ironically, built mostly with recycled parts.

As Haskins sees it, the venture being forged from the WB and UPN is more than the sum of its shows, which at the start include a mix from the defunct networks and a pair of new programs, ``Runaway'' and ``The Game.''

CW begins Wednesday with a two-hour ``America's Next Top Model.''

``I don't look at us as launching a new network. I look at us as launching a new entertainment brand,'' said Haskins, whose title also makes the point: executive vice president, marketing and brand strategy.

It's not enough to advertise and promote shows, broadcast them and hope viewers tune in, according to Haskins and CW Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff. To reach its intended audience of 18- to 34-year-olds, the network wants to engage them where they live _ in the digital world.

While established broadcasters maneuver to exploit the Internet, iPod and other technology, CW is building them into its carefully designed model, its executives said.

``The words we use to describe CW, besides the young demographic, are innovation, participation, connection and community,'' said Ostroff, the former UPN entertainment head in charge of the new network that's a joint venture of Viacom-owned CBS Corp. and Time Warner Inc.

She cited market research that showed its target audience, found at the 60-million-strong intersection of Generations X and Y, ``is a `we' generation, not a `me' generation.''

The data also made it clear that the old vs. new media divide is nonexistent among young adults and that CW had to capitalize on that, according to Ostroff and Haskins.

``What we learned from advertisers and viewers is they all were expecting us to be bold and daring and take chances,'' Ostroff said.

So that translates, for instance, to ``Free to be Famous,'' in which viewers build their own promotions of CW shows that can include photos of them and friends. They'll be alerted by e-mail if the spots air _ which will be determined by online voting.

The CW also has a significant presence on the social networking web site MySpace with a dedicated hub. This week, the network will use it to launch a contest that will give a band the chance to play on the drama ``Supernatural.''

On Wednesday, the day the CW opens for business, the network will dominate Yahoo! for the 3-4 p.m. EDT hour, with the ad space on every page (except for the site's home page) taken over by CW.

There's a commercial makeover afoot as well. Besides the standard 30- or 60-second spots, some sponsors will try to get their message across in what CW has dubbed ``content wraps,'' ad segments promising entertainment or information along with product plugs.

On this week's ``Top Model,'' viewers will see two-minute content wraps dubbed ``C What's Hip,'' and ``Happening'' and ``Hot,'' including a behind-the-scenes look at fashion week. Who's the sponsor? It's Procter & Gamble's Herbal Essences, to be featured in accompanying blurbs about hairstyling tips.

The wraps also would have online and wireless tie-ins. For example, viewers could visit the CW's Internet site for a chance to be on a blind-date themed ad spot and later could track the outcome _ as well as get more details on what's being sold.

The network has a good shot at succeeding, said Stacey Lynn Koerner, president of the consumer experience practice at Interpublic Media.

``They've taken the best of two networks and put them together on a single network. I think it's a a win-win from a content standpoint,'' she said.

Recycled WB or UPN shows on CW include ``7th Heaven,'' ``Everybody Hates Chris,'' ``Veronica Mars,'' ``All of Us,'' ``Girlfriends'' and ``Friday Night Smackdown!''

The content is the first step. But it's also important that CW ``looks and feels like the next generation of television networks,'' Koerner said.

``That's got a lot to do with the fact they are inviting the viewer in to be a participant in the experience'' and is taking the same inclusive approach to advertisers, she said.

Tradition isn't being ignored. The T-shirt giveaway ranks as old school and there are billboards aplenty on streets and in malls _ all done in the CW's theme color, an eye-catching bright green (``You call it green. I call it PMS 370,'' joked Haskins, referring to its Pantone Matching System color-chart designation).

The mall promotions were particularly ambitious, with CW stars enlisted in the effort and concerts featuring pop stars including Jewel.

``I needed every device I could get my hands on,'' Haskins said. ``I had a very limited amount of time to communicate to the world that this was a new network that was going to be launching in the fall.''

Another burden is that viewers searching for the UPN and WB shows that made the cut for the CW schedule won't necessarily find them on their old stations.

While most WB outlets (67 percent) are part of CW, only 27 percent of former UPN stations are CW affiliates. In 8 percent of the country, the new network is on a station that was neither a WB or UPN affiliate.

(MyNetworkTV, the answer from News Corp.'s Fox for those WB and UPN affiliates left out when CW formed, began this month with a limited lineup of telenovelas, or serialized dramas.)

CW will air 30 hours of programming seven days a week, following the WB model. Six nights of prime-time shows will air Monday through Friday from 8 to 10 p.m. and Sundays from 7 to 10 p.m. There will also be shows on weekday and Sunday afternoons and Saturday morning children's programs.

Tyra Banks, creator of ``America's Next Top Model,'' said she's confident fans will find their way to her ex-UPN show.

``It will take time but `Top Model' ain't going nowhere. Once people find out what channel to turn to and it's green now, they'll be fine,'' she said.

Rob Thomas, creator and executive producer of another UPN-turned-CW show, ``Veronica Mars,'' was hopeful but more cautious.

``This year I am kind of reinvigorated and optimistic and think, `Finally, a lead-in (`Gilmore Girls') that makes sense for us.' We're not opposite `Lost' and not competing with the WB that had the audience `Veronica Mars' is trying to get.''

``It all seems set up for us to do all right, knock on wood,'' Thomas said.

The superstitious approach doesn't cut it for Haskins, though.

``It's a new marketing world. We can say this is the new reality and we can embrace it and be successful or we can look back in a year and wonder why we failed.''