Wednesday, March 5, 2008

CW can no longer play newbie card

Chicago Tribune March 5, 2008

All last TV season the people at The CW talked about the challenge of establishing its identity because viewers were adjusting to the new network, formed after UPN and The WB went away.

Now, viewers presumably have adjusted, and they're the ones going away.

The CW's overall viewership is down about 20 percent this season compared with a year ago, to an average of about 2.6 million viewers. Among its targeted audience of viewers age 18 to 34, its numbers are off about 25 percent, to a mere 750,000 or so.

Just to give an idea of how weak this is: In 2005-06, its last season, UPN had 890,000 viewers in the targeted 18-34 demographic; The WB had 850,000.

It takes a special math to add those two and come up with less.

The troubles of this joint venture of CBS Corp. and Time Warner's Warner Bros. are particularly felt at Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago Tribune, which owns Chicago's WGN-Ch. 9, New York's WPIX-TV, Los Angeles' KTLA-TV and 11 other CW affiliates. For all the talk of problems with shrinking revenue on Tribune's print side, there is concern within the company about the CW's impact on broadcasting operations.

Whether it is because of the costly writers strike or because new programs such as "Life is Wild" and "Online Nation" proved about as popular as cold sores, the CW this week laid off 25 to 30 people and announced a restructuring that includes folding its comedy department into its drama department.

"Everybody Hates Chris," the network's best comedy, is averaging a 0.9 household rating and 0.4 rating in the 18-34 demographic, and that's enough to score it an early renewal on The CW this year, along with "Gossip Girl," "Supernatural," "One Tree Hill," "Smallville" and "America's Next Top Model," its most-watched show.

Between the two airings of last week's episode, "Model" attracted a little more than 5 million viewers, or around a third of the audience for the debut of "Oprah's Big Give" on ABC.

It's apparently one thing to watch people helping those in need, quite another to watch a network in need.

The eight-minute gap: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin is having his staff seek information from WHNT-TV in Huntsville, Ala., as to how the CBS affiliate lost its signal for eight minutes during a 13-minute "60 Minutes" report last month.

The story suggested convicted former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman might have been the victim of a Republican conspiracy. The investigation comes at the urging of the five-member FCC's two Democrats, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein.

Siegelman, a Democrat convicted in 2006, is serving time on federal charges of bribery and obstruction of justice. The "60 Minutes" report included an allegation that Republicans, including presidential adviser Karl Rove, tried to discredit the former governor.

The station has blamed its signal loss during the Feb. 24 telecast on a malfunctioning receiver, which it said had caused a glitch during a basketball game the day before. It reran the "60 Minutes" report in its entirety on two newscasts and made it available online.

WHNT-TV is owned by Oak Hill Capital Partners and managed by Local TV LLC, which is in a partnership with Tribune Co. to share certain operations among the two company's TV stations.

The credibility gap: Arbitron's efforts to replace listener diaries with portable people meters to compile the radio ratings used in selling advertising has hit a snag. The Media Rating Council has denied accreditation to the new methodology in New York and Philadelphia.

The council has accredited Arbitron's PPM ratings in Houston.

The council, in a statement, said it "believes that an electronic measurement such as Arbitron's PPM technology can represent an improvement over existing non-electronic audience measurements," and it encourages the company's good-faith efforts to achieve accreditation.

Chicago radio is supposed to switch to PPMs this year.


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