The 5ifth Network

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Media giants Time Warner and CBS are banking on a joint venture to attract the elusive 18- to 34-year-old demographic, but what effect will this have on advertising and distribution?

The news that two of the nation's largest TV networks—CBS' UPN and Time Warner's WB—would combine to form a fifth network was arguably the most memorable event in NATPE history. Dubbed The CW, the new network will nail down programming schedules by May, with a final announcement being made at The CW's upfront sales presentation later that month. The 50-50 joint venture makes a lot of sense in that both UPN and WB have been fighting for the same audience since their inceptions in 1995. In addition, both Warner Bros. and CBS (which is owned by Paramount) have strong studio backings, and combining the networks would give both a better chance of getting their shows on the air.

But what does this mean for smaller studios looking to pitch their shows to one of the "Big Five" networks? According to a spokesman for The CW, while the network will rely on the powerful resources from its two parent entertainment companies, The CW also will offer many broadcast slots for potential hit shows. "While we have great supply lines from Warner and CBS Paramount, we will buy programs from everyone. We want the best ideas from everywhere and the best shows on the schedule, regardless of parenthood," he says.

Although much of the current focus has been on primetime programming, Warner Bros. also must consider how to handle its programming blocks such as Kids' WB!. According to CW's spokesman, "Kids' WB! has been the dominant broadcaster for many years, and it will be an integral part of The CW with its strong Saturday morning block of kids' programming."

One of the key issues to sort through is advertising. It's no secret that both UPN and WB have been struggling financially, but cherry-picking the best programming from each network doesn't mean ad rates should go through the roof. However, the network consolidation actually may cause ad rates to rise at all of the major networks, as companies battle for freed-up dollars. According to one agency exec, The CW must be particularly cautious about pricing itself out of the market, noting, if it does raise its prices higher than buyers want to see, Fox or cable will become viable alternatives.

For now, though, the new network has the opportunity to brand itself as a one-stop broadcast destination for adults ages 18 to 34. "We want The CW to be the destination for advertisers and viewers seeking high-quality, compelling programming that speaks to this demographic," says the network's spokesman, adding, "This will be defined by the great programming brands we already have to choose from, including Smallville, America's Next Top Model, Gilmore Girls, and Everybody Hates Chris, as well as the shows The CW will develop."

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