CW's puzzle pieces are coming together

CW's puzzle pieces are coming together

The CW Network is one month old this week. So what have we learned?

Since its Sept. 20 debut, the joint venture of CBS Corp. and Time Warner is hovering around the same ratings territory as WB Network and UPN last fall.

The consolidation of the two nets into CW has not boosted the numbers appreciably from what its predecessors averaged last season, which remains the long-term goal. But from the glass-half-full perspective, in the early going CW hasn't tanked in any of its core 18-34 and young-female demos, either. And with 13 former WB and UPN shows moving to new stations in virtually every market last month, there was cause for some finger-crossing.

"We feel good about where we are," CW entertainment president Dawn Ostroff says. "There's much more work to do. It is incredibly hard to move people show by show to a new channel. It's just like putting the pieces together on a big complex puzzle."

For the first three weeks of the season, CW has averaged a 1.6 rating/5 share in adults 18-34, right in the middle of where UPN (1.7/5) and WB (1.5/5) were during the comparable period last season, according to a report issued last week by analyst Steve Sternberg of media buying agency Magna Global USA. The stats essentially are the same for CW in persons 12-34 (CW's 1.6/5 compared with UPN's 1.8/6 and WB's 1.5/5); women 18-34 (CW's 2.0/6 vs. UPN's 2.3/7 and WB's 2.0/5); and those fickle teenagers (CW's 1.6/6 vs. UPN's 1.9/5 and WB's 1.5/5).

But while "America's Next Top Model" has proved that the equipment still works, viewership for the veteran WB hits that made the transition to CW is off slightly compared with last season. That could be as much a result of all the channel-switching as of the aging factor for "7th Heaven," now in its 11th season, "Gilmore Girls" (Season 7) and "Smallville" (Season 6). When UPN's buzz-heavy "Everybody Hates Chris" looked DOA in its sophomore-season debut on Sunday two weeks ago, CW didn't waste time relocating "Chris" (which did better business in the tough 8 p.m. Thursday slot last season) and the rest of its Sunday comedy block to Monday.

The network's lone new drama, "Runaway," also has been a squishy spot in the 9 p.m. Monday slot behind "7th Heaven." Now that "Heaven" and "Runaway" are relocating to Sunday, Ostroff says she's hopeful the show about a fictional family on the lam (Dad's wrongly accused of murder) will find some stability with a family audience that should be more available on Sundays than on Mondays.

Of course, no television network launching in 2006 would be credible without all sorts of attendant digital bells and whistles. Ostroff says they're very encouraged by the traffic so far for and by the activity level in its community, message boards and make-your-own-video features. Last month,the Web site (which went live Sept. 11) averaged 1.736 million unique visitors, who spent an average of 4 minutes and 40 seconds on it, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. Ostroff promises the site will get busier with streaming video and other new elements in the near future.

"We're getting very creative," Ostroff says. "The CW stands for the 18-34 demographic, which is the 'we generation' not the 'me generation.' The Web site needs to have a life all of its own."