Tuesday, January 24, 2006

WB, UPN To Fade To Black; CW Rises From The Ashes As New Media Marriage is Arranged

And Then There Were Five
Big news from the broadcast TV front as CBS and Warner Bros. link up to form the CW, a new fifth network, which means old number five and six, the WB and UPN are history as of the fall.
As the dust is still settling, no time like the present to take a look at some of the winners and losers in this link-up:
--The 16 major-market stations owned by Tribune, (including WPIX in New York and WGN in Chicago) who are now WB affiliates, and the 12 UPN stations owned by CBS. Both networks were often ratings-challenged, which also affected local newscasts. Fewer networks will inevitably mean fewer eyeballs will go wandering for similar programs.
--Shareholders of CBS, Tribune and Time Warner. None of these stocks have been a Wall Street darling, but less brutal competition and overhead can only be a good thing.
--Rupert Murdoch. The Foxy One owns the UPN station in New York, which will now have to fill prime time with....fill in the blank. Before UPN and Rupe came along, Channel 9 was little more than an afterthought, but was known for being the TV home of most local sports teams. But now that cable has locked most teams away, that option has all but vanished.
--WB and UPN affiliates in smaller markets. Outside of the 28 cities where Tribune and CBS own stations, uncertainty abounds. The CW announcement says the network will choose which affiliates to bring on board. Which leaves stations in smaller markets in a serious bind. It's conceivable some could sign off or become full-time infomercial or religious broadcasters if they lose the cachet and commercials network programming can reel in.
--Actors and writers. Even factoring in reality shows and "Smackdown", UPN and WB still run dramas and sitcoms that people actually watch, like "Gilmore Girls," "Everybody Hates Chris" and "Smallville." But now they all have to squeeze onto one channel, which means the door to something new gets closed a little bit tighter.

Bottom line: Never the shrinking violet, Les Moonves was obviously looking for a bold move now that CBS has been unshackled from the Viacom mothership. He also apparently tired of habitually jumping to the bottom of the Nielsens to see how poorly most UPN shows were faring. Not that the WB was doing all that much better in terms of sheer numbers, though "Smallville" and "Gilmore Girls," among others, have brought in some nice coin from the 18-49 demo advertisers drool over most. And that's what this really is all about. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, and then we'll worry about how to kick the crap out of Fox.

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