Synergy Sings at The WB

Although the struggling AOL Time Warner empire has been marked by disharmony among its units, some of those units are making beautiful music together.

One example is the success of singer Michelle Branch's Maverick Records album The Spirit Room, released last year. Like all albums that sell more than 1 million copies, it has been boosted by significant radio exposure of three of its singles, as well as Branch's extensive touring. However, huge exposure has also come from The WB, where tracks from The Spirit Room
have been played on Gilmore Girls, a Warner Bros. TV-produced series seen by an average of 5.2 million viewers per episode last season.

With exposure on a network whose audience skewed 63.5% female in the 2001-02 season, according to media buyer Horizon Media, and had a median age of 31, the youngest among the broadcast networks, Warner Music Group label Maverick couldn't dream up a better promotional platform—especially, considering that, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, the CD-buying public these days skews young and female.

"TV has become the new radio," said Jennifer Pyken, co-owner of Daisy Music, a company that helps producers make music-programming decisions. Daisy Music currently works on The WB series Smallville
and upcoming Birds of Prey, both produced by Tollin/Robbins productions and Warner Bros. TV. With CD sales slumping, she explained, "the record labels realize this is an opportunity, and they've set up departments just to service companies like mine. They understand that being played on a TV show drives record sales."

The Warner Music Group—a vast collection of labels operating under the broad divisions of Warner, Elektra and Atlantic—is the most aggressive in seeking out this kind of television exposure, Pyken noted, adding that The WB is the most enthusiastic about providing it.

"This is about the one thing in [AOL Time Warner's] whole vertical integration that seems to be working," quipped Brad Adgate, senior VP, director of research, Horizon Media.

Of course, The WB isn't the only network that uses major-label pop music within and to promote its programming. Fox's licensing of They Might Be Giants
single "Boss of Me" for the comedy Malcolm in the Middle
garnered the artists a Grammy award for best song in a movie or TV show.

Pyken's Daisy Music—one of several music consultancies that have popped up in Hollywood in recent years—also helps make the pop-music choices for other networks' shows, such as ABC's Alias
and Fox's Boston Public.

Still, among the networks, she said, The WB is the most dedicated to popular music: "On a Boston Public, we might use one or two songs in an episode. On a Smallville, we might use up to 10."

That makes sense to Leonard Richardson, head of music for the WB's marketing, advertising and promotions department. "Our demo is very astute, especially when it comes to music. They're pretty much on top as to whether we're using the real deal."

Indeed, modern rock tunes licensed from major labels have been a staple of WB programming, ever since the network's founding fathers, former CEO Jamie Kellner (now CEO of WB parent Turner Broadcasting) and programming whiz kid Garth Ancier (formerly entertainment president, now executive vice president of programming for Turner), shifted the network's focus away from half-hour comedies like Life With Roger
and Brotherly Love
to hour-long young-adult dramas like Buffy the Vampire Slayer
and Felicity.

Today, virtually every WB series licenses music extensively. The upcoming Greetings From Tucson, produced by Turner Television, will feature music from Los Lobos (currently signed to Disney label Mammoth Records) as its theme song when it premieres this fall. And a licensing deal with Warner Bros. recording artists The Red Hot Chili Peppers for an undisclosed series is in the works, Leonard said.

Music heard on WB programs often comes from a wide variety of labels outside the Warner Music Group. Bob Bibb, co-president of marketing, advertising and promotion for The WB, noted that licensing choices are content decisions made by show producers, who are often employed by outside production companies.

"I get CDs from every record label," said Joe Davola, executive producer of Smallville
and Birds of Prey. "I pick songs based on what's appropriate. It's not like we've gotten an edict that we've got to use Warner [Music Group]."

Still, Bibb said, The WB makes it a point "to work with our own company as much as we can. Warner [Music Group] is excellent about letting us know six months in advance who their priorities are and what bands match our demo and might go well into the various shows."

Regardless of where the music comes from, producers of The WB's programming find the network's audience particularly susceptible to the manipulations of pop vocalists. "When we look at rough cuts, we always look for places where we can enhance the angst the characters are experiencing by putting in a song," said Paul Stupin, executive producer of Dawson's Creek. "You can take a scene that's not working and make it work with good music."

Music-licensing costs for the typical WB hour-long drama are considerable, even when the transaction involves a Warner Bros.-produced show using a tune from a Warner Music Group label. According to Pyken, producers receive up to a 40% discount on royalties by running "ad cards" during the credits at the end of the show. First used by Fox several years ago, ad cards display the name of the artist who sang a particular song, what album the song can be found on, and what label released it.

For the labels, the exposure doesn't stop there: The WB viewers can log onto the network's Web site, where virtually every song played in one of the net's shows ultimately links to an order window on (the online retailer has a wide-ranging marketing agreement with AOL Time Warner).

But playing snippets of tunes to enhance the emotional content of series is only a small part of the musical exposure at The WB, which licenses even more pop music to promote and brand itself to its youthful audience. According to Promotions Co-President Bibb, his department's budget for music licensing is exceeded by only production and media buys.

Working to promote new series even before they're produced, Bibb, his Co-President Lew Goldstein and music supervisor Richardson license singles for promotional spots that often wind up in the actual series. In 1998, for example, Bibb and Goldstein convinced Dawson's Creek
producer Stupin that the song they had used to promote the launch of the show—Paula Cole's "I Don't Want to Wait"—should also be its theme.

"Bob and Lew created an amazing series of promos," said Stupin. "And, while that was happening, we were looking to replace the main title theme sung by Alanis Morissette, who wouldn't give us clearance for her song. [Cole's single] worked perfectly. It brought emotion and power and felt right."

"I Don't Want to Wait" was part of Cole's Warner Bros. release This Fire, which went on to earn a best-album Grammy and double-platinum sales status.

Kellner, Ancier, Bibb, Goldstein, and a number of other former and current WB officials developed their acumen for using music to promote and enhance young-adult dramas at Fox, licensing tunes from bands like U2 for such series as Melrose Place
in the early 1990s.

With Warner Music Group labels, though, licensing transactions can be conducted much faster, Bibb said. "At Fox, you always winced when you wanted to go in that direction, because you knew it would be a two-week process. Now we might attach music to a promo on Tuesday that feeds out Wednesday."

Daniel Frankel

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!