TV Upfronts: The CW Pushes Genre, Male Viewership and Three Other Takeaways

"We are a different network than we were a few years back,” CW president Mark Pedowitz said from the stage as he touted a broader and more male audience.
Cliff Lipson/CBS
Mark Pedowitz

Media buyers grabbed glow sticks and filed into New York City Center on Thursday for a CW upfront presentation focused primarily on genre fare.

After a three-song set from Neon Trees, it was neither CW president Mark Pedowitz nor ad sales chief Rob Tuck who took the stage but rather breakout genre star Stephen Amell of Arrow who appeared. And he did so to introduce the network’s newest superhero, The Flash, star of another DC Comics adaptation heading to the network in the fall.

Over the course of 45 minutes, Pedowitz rolled clips of two more genre offerings, midseason's iZombie and The Messengers, as well as Supernatural, which will kick off its 10th season. His message: "We are a different network than we were a few years back,” he said from the stage, noting that his primary goals since starting at the network in 2011 have been to broaden the audience and invite more males in.

Here are the five takeaways from the presentation.

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1. We're Not the Gossip Girl Network

‎Pedowitz used his upfronts platform to push The CW's new audience composition, which is more male and more adult than it had been. He credits shows like Arrow for successfully attracting both segments, and made no secret about his excitement for follow-up Flash. In fact, Pedowitz was so confident in the latter that he relied on the Grant Gustin starrer, from the producers of Arrow, to open the presentation with an extended trailer, which garnered big cheers (and a handful of squeals) from the upfront audience, and a few words from the cast.

2. (Almost) All About Genre

At this time last year, Pedowitz was candid about the struggles he was having bringing broad enough audiences to the network’s female-skewing soaps. Genre fare, on the other hand, was loud enough to break through. Cut to his new crop, which includes two more DC Comics titles -- Flash and Rob Thomas’ iZombie -- along with The Messengers, which will join series like Arrow, Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries and The Originals at the network. But by renewing Hart of Dixie and ordering female-leading soap Jane the Virgin, based on the Venezuelan telenovela, Pedowitz made it clear that there’s still (a little) room for non-genre programming on The CW’s schedule.

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3. ‎Turns Out Those Ratings Matter

For years, The CW has pushed other metrics -- and stressed that its performance should not be measured by the traditional broadcast demo of 18- to 49-year-olds, but rather by eyeballs in the 18-34 set. No longer. With ‎a 14 percent boost in the former this season and no lift in the latter, CW execs were busy touting that 18-49 boost. Also peddled: the network's total viewer gains, with The CW experiencing its most-watched year in three years. And that broadening will extend to the screen, too. At the close of the presentation, Pedowitz invited all of his actors to take the stage, and while no less attractive than in past years, the group was noticeably older.

4. But Other Devices Matter, Too

Media buyers had spent the past week hearing from CW's broadcast peers about the value of viewership across multiple platforms and devices, so they were prepared for The CW to do so, too. It's a point CW, with a younger (and smaller) audience of early technology adopters, has stressed for the past several seasons. In fact, the network launched its mobile streaming app in 2012 and was the first to offer a fully integrated media broadcast/online media buy. And Pedowitz had plenty of statistics to offer buyers, including one that suggested the streaming audience for the network's shows -- which run on the app and online with a full ad load -- is up 60 percent this year. The Originals, a Vampire Diaries spinoff launched last season, is "the most social new series," he added, and Beauty and the Beast's social media impact was a significant factor in its renewal.

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5. An Online Incubator

At this time last year, digital studio CW Seed was still in its infancy. Come this summer, the studio will have its first web-to-TV series on the air when Backpackers, which launched as a web series last summer, bows on the network with a 10-episode order. And Pedowitz, who has been vocal about his desire to use the reboot of game show Whose Line Is It Anyway? to return to comedy at the drama-heavy net, stressed that the web-to-TV model can work. (Earlier in the day, he told reporters that he'd consider an in-season sitcom block if he can find another seed comedy ready for the transition.) The digital studio, he noted, has become a valuable "incubator for new talent, new business models and new comedy," which is why he plans to add another five digital series this year, including the Veronica Mars spinoff, Labyrinth and the reality competition entry Penn & Teller: Fool Us.