Can Arrow, Supernatural, and Their Spin-offs Lift The CW?

The CW Network, a joint venture between Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) and CBS (NYSE: CBS  ) , is often referred to as "the other" broadcast network. The network skews younger than its established rivals like Fox, NBC, ABC, and CBS, and also programs just 10 hours of primetime each week as compared to The Big Four's roughly 22 each.

It's no wonder, then, that the big networks trump CW in upfront sales. Take a look at the estimated sales results from 2013:

Network

Total Sales

CBS

$2.5-$2.75

NBC

$1.9-$2.0

ABC

$2.0-$2.2

Fox

$1.78-$1.79

CW

$0.410-$0.420

Source: Variety.  Dollar figures are in billions.

It's worth noting that while CW's 2013 ad sales were more or less in line with its numbers from 2012, the network was able to demand 5%-6% increases in CPM, or the cost of reaching 1,000 audience members .

Why were advertisers confident that CW could deliver? For one, the network is ahead of the curve in some respects because it has sold digital space as well as traditional television spots at upfronts since 2012 .

Additionally, the 2012-2013 season saw the network expanding from its stereotypical young-female audience into a broader market with shows like Arrow.

Here are the average prices of a 30-second spot in some of the CW's programs in 2013:

Show

Cost per 30-Second Ad

Arrow

$47,450

Supernatural

$39,188

The Originals

$34,740

Hart of Dixie

$26,785

The Carrie Diaries

$19,333

Source: AdWeek 

Arrow was clearly carrying the team in 2013, but ratings could help boost ad sales for some of these other shows this year.

So how are the ratings?
It was a promising fall season for the CW. In November, Arrow reached a series high in the 18-49 demo with a 1.2/3, with total viewers at 3.09 million .

Also, freshman series The 100 had a solid premiere, with a 0.9 rating in adults 18-49 . Another new series, The Originals, combined with fan favorite Supernatural to give the network its highest rated Tuesday in more than four years this November. That night, The Originals pulled in 2.4 million viewers and Supernatural added 2.36 million . This is exactly the type of performance that CW wants to showcase to advertisers.

What's next?
The network's next task is to give advertisers the confidence that new programming can keep ratings on the upswing. It's no wonder then, that two of the pilots in contention for a series order are spin-offs. Flash, a spin-off of Arrow, is about the early days of DC Comic's scientist Barry Allen as he becomes the Fastest Man Alive. The pilot for Bloodlines will actually air as an episode of its mother-series, Supernatural later this season .

The network has a second DC Comic, iZombie from top producers Greg Berlanti (Everwood, Jack & Bobby) and Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars, Party Down). The project follows a zombie medical student who inherits the memories from the brains she must eat . The producers certainly have the experience and know-how to make this property a cult-classic.

Heading in to upfronts
This year, the CW will also have some help from parent company CBS at upfront sales. The networks will still set their own prices, but have agreed to collaborate more on viewership research and share resources that could promote sales for each other . This could lead to better sales results for both networks at upfronts.

We won't see CW overtaking the Big Four networks in commercial revenue any time soon, but the young network's performance certainly merits watching. As its audience gets broader and buzz continues to grow around its comics-based properties, The CW could prove to be a spark on the balance sheets of its parent companies.

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