WB, UPN MERGE INTO CW
After a sometimes bitter 11-year battle to be broadcasting’s fifth network, CBS’s UPN and Time Warner’s WB are merging into a single network to be called The CW, the companies announced in New York this morning. CBS and TW will be equal partners in the venture.
It was also announced that Tribune Broadcasting and the CBS Corp.’s UPN affiliates have agreed separately to sign 10-year affiliation agreements with the new network.
The combination of Tribune’s 16 major market stations and the 12 CBS-owned UPN major market affiliates will give The CW coverage in 48% of the country when it launches this fall. The remainder of the network’s distribution system will be a combination of selected current UPN and The WB stations. The full distribution of the new network is expected to exceed 95% of the country, CBS and TW said.
WB and UPN will continue to offer their primetime schedule until this fall and then cease operation.
Dawn Ostroff, currently president of UPN, will become The CW’s president of entertainment and John Maatta, currently COO of The WB, will become COO of the new network.
The Hollywood Reporter quotes sources as saying that WB Network Chairman Garth Ancier and WB Entertainment President David Janollari are expected to leave their posts once the deal is completed.
“This new network will serve the public with high-quality programming and maintain our ongoing commitment to our diverse audience,” said CBS President and CEO Les Moonves in a prepared statement. “It will clearly be greater than the sum of its parts, delivering excellent demographics to advertisers, and building a strong new affiliate body.
“Additionally, The CW will be able to draw from the creative talent and production resources from the top two television production studios in the business, while also seeking programming from all sources—independent producers or other studios,” Moonves said. “With this move, we will be creating a viable entity, one well-equipped to compete, thrive and serve all our many publics in this multi-channel media universe. I’d like to thank Dawn Ostroff and all the talented people at UPN who have worked so hard. For many years UPN had financial losses, but under CBS’s guidance, UPN has been able to effect a dramatic creative turnaround in a short period of time.”
“This is a very exciting day for Time Warner and its shareholders in the creation of what we believe will be a very strong and viable fifth broadcast television network,” said Jeff Bewkes, president and COO of Time Warner. “This new network will have all the strategic asset value as an outlet for our programming that The WB presented us, but with a much firmer and more secure financial present and future. The credit goes to Barry Meyer, who continues to have tremendous vision and extraordinary business acumen as the long-time leader of Warner Bros. Entertainment, a company that we are proud to say continues to be number one in its class.”
“We are pleased to be the lead affiliate group of what will be a strong network,” said Dennis FitzSimons, president and CEO of the Tribune Co. “We could not have had a better partner than Warner Bros. and Barry Meyer since we together launched The WB 11 years ago. Now, with the ownership role of CBS and the leadership of Leslie Moonves added to the mix, Tribune’s viewers and advertisers will benefit from an even stronger programming lineup.”
The 16 Tribune affiliated stations will be those in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, Washington, Houston, Miami, Denver, St. Louis, Portland, Indianapolis, San Diego, Hartford, New Orleans and Albany. (Broadcasting & Cable reports that Tribune will have to program its stations in Philadelphia, Seattle and Atlanta as independents since both Tribune and CBS both own stations there.)
The 12 CBS Station Group television markets are Philadelphia, San Francisco, Atlanta, Detroit, Tampa, Seattle, Sacramento, Pittsburgh, West Palm Beach, Norfolk, Oklahoma City and Providence. Together, these top two station groups cover the top 13 television markets, 20 of the top 25 television markets and have a total coverage area of more than 48% of the country.
The CW will incorporate The WB’s current scheduling model, which consists of a 6 night-13 hour primetime lineup including Monday through Friday nights from 8-10 (ET/PT); Sundays from 7-10 (ET/PT); Sunday from 5-7 (ET/PT) outside of primetime as well as a Monday through Friday afternoon block from 3-5 (ET/PT) and a five-hour Saturday morning animation block. Together, the network will program 30 hours a week over seven days for its affiliated stations.
As the top creative executive, Ostroff will have available a line-up of some of the most popular programming that appeals to young adults in the media business. These programming assets range from hit reality series such as America’s Next Top Model and The WB’s Beauty and the Geek, to hit dramas like The WB’s Smallville, Gilmore Girls, Supernatural, and UPN’s Veronica Mars as well as UPN’s hit comedies Everybody Hates Chris and Girlfriends and The WB’s hit comedy Reba. In addition the WWE’s Smackdown, which has been a mainstay at UPN, is expected to play a role in the schedule.
In addition, The CW will also broadcast the schedule of children’s programming now known as Kids’ WB!, a five-hour original programming block on Saturday mornings from 7 a.m. to noon, considered primetime for kids. Kids’ WB! has been the broadcast network ratings champion since fall 2000, capturing 16 consecutive sweep victories as the No. 1 Saturday morning kids’ broadcaster.
All programming, marketing, scheduling, publicity and research functions will report to Ostroff.
Maatta will be responsible for the network’s business operations. Bill Morningstar, The WB’s executive VP of advertising sales, will become the head of sales, reporting to Maatta. Other responsibilities that will report to Maatta include business affairs, network distribution, legal, finance and human resources.
“The CW launches as a strong competitor to the Big Four,” said Moonves. “That’s good for our business, for the viewing audience and for free, over-the-air broadcasting. It is also good news for our shareholders, who will benefit from a much stronger business model, improved economics for our stations and new opportunities for our production businesses.”
The deal, which was kept secret until the executives came on stage for the press conference, was conceived, said the Hollywood Reporter, by Meyer and Moonves at a dinner party last Thanksgiving.
Shares of Time Warner, the biggest media company, rose 18 cents, or 1.1% to $17.27on the New York Stock Exchange. Shares of CBS, formed by the split of Viacom Inc. this month, rose $1.08, or 4%, to $26.90. Stock in Chicago-based Tribune fell 25 cents to $29.65.