Friday, February 5, 2010

Looking at The CW with "The CW Demo"

I've done a lot of posts about the prices per 30 second spot for shows on the big 4, but I've always left out The CW for one reason: anyone who follows TV ratings has heard that the target audience of the CW is women age 18-34, not the broader adults 18-49 of the other four. Many people think that a broadcast network zoning in on that kind of niche is far too narrow a goal, but it is what it is. What we generally don't see is these W18-34 numbers looked at in much detail. Total viewers and adults 18-49 are still the numbers most readily available, and they are still the numbers generally used to analyze the network, fairly or unfairly. But I've gone through the final numbers provided by the great TravisYanan and put the W18-34 numbers together, just to try to get a sense of how strong the various shows are in the CW's demo this season. These numbers are all through the week ending 1/31.

The Vampire Diaries: 2.8 W18-34, average of 12 originals
Gossip Girl: 2.7 W18-34, average of 12 originals
America's Next Top Model: 2.6 W18-34, average of 11 originals
One Tree Hill: 2.3 W18-34, average of 14 originals
90210: 2.3 W18-34, average of 12 originals
Melrose Place: 1.5 W18-34, average of 12 originals
Supernatural: 1.5 W18-34, average of 12 originals
Smallville: 0.9 W18-34, average of 10 originals

What Sells on CW?

Now the most important question here is whether the CW actually sells ads based on that number. I've heard it, but since I don't have W18-34 numbers for the 2008-09 season, I can't verify it the way I did in my viewers vs. demo posts. But I can still look at the price-per-spot numbers:

ANTM: $93,343
Gossip Girl: $59,316
One Tree Hill: $55,636
90210: $53,605
Melrose Place: $49,019
Vampire Diaries: $38,966
Smallville: $33,090
Supernatural: $32,928

Here's one example that should show the conventional wisdom of my Peetooplus posts doesn't apply: if we look at A18-49 original averages in 2008-09, which in the above link about viewers vs. demos was shown to correlate relatively well with ad dollars for the big 4, Gossip Girl had a 1.39 and Supernatural had a 1.33. So Gossip Girl's only about 5% stronger in A18-49, but the ad money is about 80% more. Unless there was some extremely drastic speculation going on, it would seem A18-49 is not the thing setting these numbers. And it's certainly not total viewers, since Supernatural is actually the stronger show there. Is W18-34 the thing setting them? I don't know for sure, but whenever Ad Age gives us another list of ad rates for fall 2010, I may take another look at that question. Let's assume for now that it does, since it clearly isn't the other stuff.

The Newbies

Clearly The Vampire Diaries' going rate of less than $40k per was way too low, and it should fetch a considerably higher rate next season. But is it far and away the hugest thing that the CW has ever come up with, as many claim? In W18-34, not really; it's only a tick ahead of Gossip Girl, and GG has been down considerably this year; meaning last season it was (probably) a better draw than TVD. If they were an A18-49 network like the rest of 'em, the upper 1's that TVD has pulled in would look pretty rosy, but that may not matter all that much. That said, The Vampire Diaries' upper 2's in W18-34 is by no means anything to be ashamed of; the only thing it's guilty of is being even stronger in the numbers that are both more accessible to most ratings followers and probably less relevant to the people that count.

So where does that leave the other newbies on the net, Melrose Place and Life Unexpected? In the A18-49-based Renew/Cancel Index on TVByTheNumbers, Melrose is dead in the water, but in reality, it's basically on par with Supernatural in the CW demo. And that show is widely considered very likely to return. I'm not so sure Supernatural should be a slam dunk, based on its ad money and the fact that it's doing less than 60% of the W18-34 numbers of the net's crown jewels (including its own lead-in), but even if it is, Melrose probably looks weaker to CW execs because its average is largely front-loaded. The recent trend has not been favorable, and low 1's in W18-34 have been common in the latest originals, while Supernatural has pulled a 1.5+ in both of its 2010 originals. Supernatural also probably gets a pass on some level because it faces brutal scripted competition, particularly the huge W18-34 draw Grey's Anatomy.

Meanwhile, this is the three week track for Life Unexpected in W18-34: 2.5 -> 1.9 -> 1.7. The show is, suffice to say, considerably weaker now than all those rich kid shows (except Melrose Place) for which LUX was supposed to signal the beginning of the end. The Bachelor provides bigger W18-34 competition than almost anything those other shows have faced in originals, and ABC Family's lineup is also in the mix in early 2010, but the show has still dropped from lead-in One Tree Hill the last couple weeks (it's gone 2.2 -> 2.2 -> 2.0 in LUX's three weeks). So I think its position is a little murkier than some would like to believe, and a renewal may be more based in critical acclaim than anything else. It's difficult to peg the prospects of something in the upper 1's arena because there's almost no precedent, just a big dropoff from OTH's 2.3 average all the way down to the 1.5 of Supernatural and Melrose Place. I'm interested to see where they go.

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