The CW, a pioneer in converging broadcast and digital, is unifying its streaming presence with a single CW app, making programming easier to find and giving advertisers a simpler way to reach a larger young audience.
The updated app streams the network’s original series, library series and content from CW Seed, the digital site it established in 2013.
The app, soft launched earlier this year, is free to download on all major platforms including Roku, Amazon Fire, Vizio, LG Smart TV, iOS, Apple TV’s tvOS, Android TV, UWP Xbox One and Google Play, and content is free to stream on demand with ad support.
“With this new CW app, we are providing fans with one destination to catch up with their favorite current CW series and at the same time discover full seasons of highly bingeable shows from the CW Seed catalog, increasing overall engagement with all our programs and allowing the brand to live its most authentic self,” said Rick Haskins, president, streaming and chief branding officer for The CW.
“We’re the only network that actually has the same name across all our platforms, whether it’s social, digital or network,” Haskins told Broadcasting+Cable.
“Look at NBC, to stream you have to go to Peacock. With ABC, it’s Hulu,” he said. “I think it gets a little bit confusing for the consumer and it just makes it so much easier for us to brand and so much easier for the consumer.”
At a time when those major media companies are spending billions on content to keep pace in the streaming wars, gaining share of mind is difficult. "The way we’re doing it gives us an advantage," Haskins said. "We know who our audience is and we focus strictly on that limited audience as opposed to being a big box store."
The new app will be home to three types of shows.
Current primetime CW shows that premiered before 2019 have the most recent five episodes available on the CW app, and past full seasons available on Netflix. These series include: All American, Charmed, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Dynasty, The Flash, In the Dark, Legacies, Riverdale and Roswell, New Mexico.
Current primetime CW shows that premiered after 2019 have current full seasons available on the CW app before past full seasons move to HBO Max and Paramount Plus, the streaming service owned by The CW’s parents, WarnerMedia and Paramount. These series include: 4400, All American: Homecoming, Batwoman, DC’s Stargirl, Kung Fu, Nancy Drew, Naomi, Superman & Lois and Walker.
CW Seed acquisitions and library content, which consists of full seasons of past CW series and full seasons of acquisitions from other networks that fit with the CW brand. These series include: 90210, Beauty and the Beast, Containment, Everybody Hates Chris, The Game, Krypton, Lost Girl, The Lying Game, The Messengers, Ringer, The Secret Circle, Star Crossed, Suburgatory and Whiskey Cavalier.
CW originally set up CW Seed because its deal with Hulu, under which Hulu streamed CW shows, limited The CW’s ability to stream its own shows online. When that deal ended and The CW’s shows moved to Netflix, Hulu faced fewer restrictions, clearing the way to unify its digital footprint.
“The time just seemed right to do it as opposed to having two separate properties,” Haskins said. “We’re seeing great results from merging the CW product, acquired product within the same app as opposed to throwing people back and forth with two apps.”
Haskins said The CW is in the process of acquiring content for its app. It aims to get shows that work with the CW brand by having related subject matter or a youthful attitude.
For example with Superman & Lois coming up, The CW acquired the rights to Krypton, which was originally on Syfy but firmly within The CW's D.C. universe The network was able to move viewers from Superman & Lois on broadcast to Krypton on Seed. “That’s one of our secrets, is we really do know how to migrate viewers from platform to platform,” Haskins said.
CW also acquired 90210 for its app and Haskins said it's often one of the app's top five shows, More recently it added two Pretty Little Liars spinoffs, Ravenswood and The Lying Game. If those shows hadn’t debuted on Disney’s Freeform, they would have been on The CW, Haskins said.
Haskins says digital distributors like Roku and Fire TV have been helpful in the transition. The CW is spending some marketing dollars with them to push the app and encourage people to update their current CW or Seed apps to get the new converged version before the old apps sunset.
The CW had about 92 million downloads with the old CW and CW Seed apps. Since soft launching the new app, that’s up to 100 million.
The CW will wait until the TV season is over to start promoting the app directly to consumers. “Call me crazy, but you want to make sure the app works,” Haskins said. “Also, right now, we want to focus on our linear programming and drive viewers to The CW.”
With its combined audience, the new CW app should be more attractive to advertisers, said Brian Doherty, senior VP, multi-platform national sales for The CW.
"We are building a bigger storefront with the unified app, which will enable The CW to hold onto viewers longer by offering more recommendations and content to them, thus enabling advertisers to extend their reach while managing the campaign's frequency, and that is the goal,” Doherty said.
The CW was among the first programmers to sell its linear and digital advertising inventory on a converged basis.
"Since establishing the multiplatform sales initiative more than a decade ago where advertisers are getting both broadcast and digital inventory, we have long established ourselves as delivering across all platforms to an advertiser at a single competitive price,” he said.
While The CW has a relatively young audience for a broadcast network, streaming draws viewers who are even younger. The linear platform targets 25- to 54-year-olds, while the digital target is 18- to 34-year-olds.
"We know that the demand is very strong for trying to reach young adults in a highly fragmented marketplace, and it's being well received that we're going to market with one CW branded network across all platforms,” Doherty said.
The new digital platform will also yield more insights into CW viewer behavior, and the networks create ad experiences that match those behaviors.
“We firmly believe the ad experience should differ for a viewer who may be catching up on the latest episode of All American versus a viewer who is binging an entire season of library content like 90210,” Doherty said. ■
Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.
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