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Money, audiences drive major TV mergers

Brian Doxtader and Marty Schroeder | Friday, September 22, 2006

Anyone flipping through channels on the new cable in the dorms may have noticed something – two major networks, The WB and UPN, are no more. In their place is a single network, The CW.

A joint venture between CBS (who owns UPN) and Time Warner, The CW launched this fall with programming designed to draw from each respective channel. With its formal opening on Sept. 20, The CW aired the season premier of “America’s Next Top Model.”

This opener showcases The CW’s target audience – the younger generation of America that are less interested in news and sports reports than sitcoms and reality television. However, The WB’s top sitcom, “Reba,” was picked up at the last minute even though it’s outside of The CW’s target audience. With shows like “Reba” lined up with the teen sleuth show “Veronica Mars” and the definition of machismo, “WWE: Smackdown,” the fact that The CW has a target audience at all comes into question.

Who ultimately loses in these mergers? In most cases, it’s the audiences the networks target.

The WB and UPN had very different audiences, and it’s difficult to believe that the programming The CW chooses will appeal to both. Indeed, it’s more likely that the network will have difficulty balancing its demographics – network mergers typically don’t have the audience’s desires as the foremost concern. No, the ultimate motivation in these types of deals is money.

Due to the fact that neither the WB nor UPN could compete with the big three (CBS, ABC, NBC) nor attain the miracle that Fox was able to muster, the parent companies for the tow channels decided to merge and hopefully bring both audiences from their respective channels to the new network.

On a more positive note for the new network, the affiliates on board include 16 stations from the Tribune Company previously associated with The WB, which brings Chicago’s WGN, Los Angeles and New York among others on board. Also, CBS Television Stations group has committed 11 stations previously associated with UPN. Of the 11, Detroit, Philadelphia and Atlanta are the biggest.

With these stations, The CW will reach about 48 percent of the American market – and this is only from 27 affiliates. This does not include many other affiliates, which hosted either UPN or The WB and will now be hosting The CW. This new network will reach many people, but the only question is whether people will watch it.

Les Moonves, the chairman of CBS, may claim, “This new network will serve the public with high-quality programming and maintain our ongoing commitment to our diverse audience,” but that same diversity means an uneven split between programming.

After all, do CBS and Warner really believe that the people who watch “Gilmore Girls” are also interested in “WWE: Smackdown”?