For much of its existence, The CW has been shunted off to the side by its bigger, and more popular, broadcast siblings. Launched in 2006 when UPN and The WB combined forces, The CW's tiny audience is usually relegated it to a mere footnote when compared to the likes of CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC.
But The CW has suddenly become a broadcaster to be reckoned with, thanks to its two freshman hits: The Flash, which is already most-watched show in The CW's history and the critically-acclaimed Jane the Virgin, which nabbed the network its first-ever Peabody Award and Golden Globe wins.
Along with Arrow, The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural, the shows have led The CW to its most-watched season since 2007-2008, and increases this season on four of The CW's five nights of programming (only Thursdays, thanks to ABC's unstoppable lineup of Shonda Rhimes shows, has taken a hit). More proof of the network's broadening audience: its median age is now 43, up from 37 three years ago, and the audience is now 45 percent male, versus 35 percent male three years ago.
CW president Mark Pedowitz is also using the network's digital arm, CW Seed, to develop new comedies for the network. In a Q&A ahead of next week's upfronts, Pedowitz talked about the advantages of aging up the network, wooing new advertisers and how Doctor Who inspired his crossover strategy.
The CW audience is now almost 45 percent male. What shows are most responsible for adding men?
It's The Flash, Arrow, The 100 and Supernatural.
Had you been actively pursuing a male audience with those shows?
We recognize that when Smallville went off the air [in 2011] we lost a boatload of men. So this was a thoughtful, executed piece of a strategy to balance it out a little more.
You've mentioned that your affiliates are happier that you now have an older audience, which is something The CW seemed to actively fight against for years.
We're still the youngest network, but unfortunately things became very niche. And by broadening out the 18 to 34, meaning willing to take people older, younger, whatever that was, it enabled us to grow. Because of that, the sales team and the success of Flash, then Arrow and then now Jane [the Virgin], the sales team is getting responses from advertisers they have not seen in years and that we never had before. It's still having that core of advertisers in play and who we reach out to. So it's been great.
What kind of new advertisers are coming on board?
We've been getting far more financial services than we ever had. We're getting far more automotive than we've had. And we're back on the quick service restaurant business. So it's changed a lot of those dynamics.
The Flash has brought you a huge audience, but now the pressure is on to get that audience engaged with your other shows. Does that change your strategy going forward as you look at which shows to pick up?
No, we think we have a legitimate strategy that goes forward. Every strategy evolves based on circumstances, but you cannot operate a strategy off of fear. So what we do not want to do is let fear dictate what the strategy is. We know what we want to do as a team. The owners agree. The studios bought into it. And it's proven to have worked in a lot of different ways. Like everything else, a little luck doesn't hurt. And we're thrilled that Flash gave us huge commercial potential, being the highest rated show ever on The CW.
In January, you renewed up your entire fall schedule, which is a first for the network. What led you to make a mic-dropping statement like that?
We believe that the shows are quality, and good or bad, I'd rather go to the bank with quality. And we believe that some of the shows were impacted, particularly on Thursday night, by the ABC move. We believe our shows still have a lot of great creative juice, so we said to ourselves, okay we have these eight terrific shows. We talk more and more about trying to broaden out across the year. Not all of the shows will be on for the fall of '15. This gives us some assets and great quality scripted drama to put on late midseason or into the summer of '16.
Jane the Virgin has been gaining momentum this season, but audiences joining late can only watch the last five episodes; there's no way for them to go back to episode 1 on your site?
They can do it from electronic sell-through. They just can't do it from streaming.
But The CW can't fully capitalize on that momentum, and those viewers who want to start at the beginning. Will that accelerate your discussions with studios about stacking the entire current season?
No, they're all part of a process that we're going through. But that said, when the shows were released this past season in early fall, with the returning shows, we definitely had a Netflix effect. We saw people go back in and we saw the numbers starting to pop by the third episode of the season. It does occur. It just occurs later than the consumer wishes and we're going to have to deal with the consumer desire.
Earlier this year, you said that you're using your digital extension, CW Seed, to develop potential sitcoms for the network, like this summer's Significant Mother. So are you looking at every Seed show as having possible network potential?
Most of them, but not all of them. Some of them are legitimate digital series and should stay that way.
Your Flash/Arrow crossover was very successful last December, and you've said that you'll keep that as an annual fourth quarter event. Why did you decide on that time of the season versus, say, May sweeps?
It worked well this fourth quarter. I saw how Doctor Who has done it [with holiday specials]. There's something to be said about that. If someone has a good idea, I'm not afraid to join them. And so if you're doing it once a year, make them special. It's sort of a holiday gift!
Summers have increased in importance for you, and next summer especially you have plans for a big summer push. What made you decide that it was time for that?
We have the scripted pieces now to go do that. When I first got here, there were no scripted pieces. So 2011-2012 was the first time we tried a summer. It was mixed at best. Then the next summer we found Whose Line [is it Anyway?]. Last summer we found Penn & Teller[: Fool Us]. This year we'll add Beauty and the Beast to the mix [, with Season 3 premiering on June 11]. So you start adding these things to it and then you have a bigger, more robust summer.