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The WB Takes Its Lumps

The WB Television Network’s large losses this season stem a great deal from the adjustments Nielsen Media Research made to its ratings system this fall, the network’s top executives told TV critics and reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour in Los Angeles Tuesday.

"Nielsen is a compass for any network," said The WB chairman and CEO Jamie Kellner. "We aren’t complaining that the numbers are way off, but we have to interpret from something we don’t totally believe in to make important decisions."

Nielsen’s adjustments, which the ratings company admits may have contributed up to 40% of the networks’ audience losses this season, were especially hard on The WB.

While everyone asked where the 18-to-34-year-old men went, seemingly no one has noticed that the even-younger women The WB prizes are also disappearing.

According to The WB, the November sweeps show that persons 12-34 are down 20% nationally, but down only 11% in the 55 metered markets. Females 12-34 are down 16% nationally, but only 7% in the metered markets. And teens are down 14% nationally, but only 3% locally.

The changes in Nielsen’s weighting system could lead to a $1 billion loss in advertising revenues among the six broadcast networks, said WB co-CEO and programming chief Jordan Levin. The six networks combined took a $300-million ad hit in the fourth quarter.

The WB is trying to figure out how best to get the most value from its scripted shows. The network is considering programming models that look more like HBO, in which a scripted series might run in originals for 15 straight weeks, with two runs per week. The show would then go off the air for a while to make room for another series.

On the programming front, Fearless, from Warner Bros. Television and Jerry Bruckheimer, is now officially dead. Neither the network nor the studio could find a satisfactory writer.

Without a big hit this year, The WB is putting more marketing resources into One Tree Hill, a midseason show that moved to fall when the producers pulled Fearless. One Tree Hill launched with virtually no marketing behind it, but still has managed to garner a strong female teen audience.

The WB launched the second go-round of The Surreal Life on Sunday night to strong ratings, and High School Reunion returns on Sunday, March 14, after Surreal Life ends its run.

Sitcom The Help will premiere on Friday, March 5, while drama Summerland comes to The WB’s air this summer.

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.