Five years ago, it came down to the wire as the CW finally secured a new five-year affiliate agreement with its biggest station group, Tribune, in May 2016. Five years later, the network is in talks with Nexstar, which acquired Tribune un 2019, and its other top affiliate groups. The network does not appear to be closing in on a deal with any of them but talks are believed to be going well, I hear.
The CW chairman and CEO Mark Pedowitz declined to discuss the state of renewal negotiations with major affiliates beyond saying that “we offer great value to them and I think they would recognize that.” A rep for Nexstar also declined comment.
The CW currently provides its affiliate stations with close to 1,000 hours of programming a year at a relatively inexpensive price point, I hear.
The network’s output went up since the last renewals with Tribune and the other majors were signed as the CW added a new night of original programming on Sunday and has been continually ramping up its original summer slate.
The CW was one of only two broadcast networks that went with a pandemic-proof fall lineup featuring scripted acquisitions, unscripted fare and the final episodes of Supernatural. The move insured that the network would have a full lineup of first-run (for the CW) programming on Day 1 of the season in September. The decision was made in part with the affiliates in mind, Pedowitz said.
“Digitally it was a huge success, linear-wise, we did what we were supposed to do which is kept the lights on, providing fresh programming to the affiliates and advertisers,” he said of the CW’s fall performance, which was modest in linear ratings but strong on digital.
The CW’s growing digital operation is expected to play a key role in securing new affiliate agreements as their value on a local level has grown, especially with the new ASTC rules. The CW’s digital footprint is far more expansive compared to five years ago when the Netflix output deal only allowed for the most recent five episodes of the network’s shows to be streamed on its digital platforms. Since the CW suppliers Warner Bros. Studios and CBS Studios ended that deal in 2019, the network has had full in-season stacking rights. It has been a big draw for CW fans, with the affiliates able to capitalize on that with local ads they get on those AVOD episodes.
While sources close to the situation do expect new affiliate agreements to be reached, the current economic uncertainty in the country amid the ongoing pandemic has everyone on alert. So, just like they did five years ago, I hear the CW and its parent companies Warner Bros. and ViacomCBS have contingency plans in case a station group drops the network.
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