While too many networks still only reluctantly share their content online, The CW is actively using such a not-so-alternative-anymore platform to develop new originals as a way of expanding their brand and really zooming in on their target demographic. Not only does The CW understand that the majority of their young audience does not consume media through the traditional television platform anyway, but they also see opportunity to create new partnerships with talent above and beyond what their still limited broadcast options can accommodate. The CW as a network still does not program the ten o’clock hour, nor have they expanded their scripted series slate to include comedy or animation. Their new CW Digital (CWD) is out to adjust that, though.
“What we’re trying to do with the CWD brand is fill in those areas we know we can’t do on broadcast but we know the fans want to see,” Rick Haskins, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Digital Programs at The CW explained.
“I think there are some things that just work better on a digital platform, but some would work well on both. We can do a concept on digital and then [later] roll it out on TV. We really do have to look at that on a case-by-case basis, but nothing would make me happier than to pilot something on digital and have it transform into one of our broadcast shows.
If I had to put a bulls-eye on our target audience, it’s Adults aged 24. From there, there’s a ripple effect above that age and below that age that we’ll capture, but that’s really the age we’re looking for.”
If successful, CWD would hardly be the first to attempt to take a web original and put it, in longer-form, on television. ABC attempted it in mid-season 2009, adapting the Suave and Sprint sponsored In The Motherhood to a half-hour comedy series. It was full of star power, and yet it only ran from March until June. Adult Swim, however, has had much greater success with Childrens Hospital, a high concept parody of medical dramas from Warner Brothers. They altered the format from six or seven minute webisodes to fifteen minute episodes aired on the cable network.
CWD has already rolled out the acquisition of Prom Queen, an original online series about murder at a high school prom from Michael Eisner’s Vuguru. The series was an important get for CWD because of the “built-in equity with that franchise,” per Haskins.
“For right now we have only acquired what is on our site. Prom Queen: Homecoming has twenty-two episodes, and they are new, and we are excited to see if they find a home on CWTV.com,” he said.
Haskins is also excited to collaborate with CelebTV to create an original lifestyle and interview series based around the talent of The CW. Calling it “ The CW’s insider, like Access Hollywood or Entertainment Tonight,” Haskins is sure the series will have cache among the fans of shows like The Vampire Diaries, Supernatural, and 90210, who want to know as much about their favorite stars as they can learn. The CW stars don’t pop up often on major network talk shows, but this will give the fans an opportunity to see them talk about everything from their shows to their charity work and fashion sense.
CWD is already shaping up to be extremely well-rounded with a genre series, a reality one, a comedy (Stupid Hype starring Hart of Dixie’s Wilson Bethel, debuting in November 2012), an animated series (working title Gallery Girl), which “focuses on the day-to-day life of an overly educated, bitterly underemployed twenty-something who works at an art gallery,” and a “name-your-own-adventure concept that The CW announced at upfronts and Haskins promised was still “in active development.”
In order to integrate the programming among platforms as best as possible, CWD is focused on social media—and key cross-overs.
“In our animated series, the patrons who come into the art gallery, many of them are animated characters from The CW shows,” Haskins provided us with an example of the plan to draw in the already existing CW audience to CWD originals.
“For instance, Kat Graham from The Vampire Diaries will come in; Misha Collins will come in; Justin Hartley will come in. What we’re trying to do is [merge] that content online and on-air and have that equity of our current shows drive awareness and viewership of our new digital series.”
CWD isn’t stopping there, though. Haskins admitted he is very much interested in more and differing genres and is open to collaborating with other CW talent and complete outsiders to give them the most unique slate possible.
“We definitely will be exploring opportunities to connect our original shows on TV with our originals on digital, and I think that we’re really casting a very wide net to see what will work and to see what will be [most] successful,” he said.
“[We] also take cold calls—about ten meetings a week of people who come in with shows, and I will tell you, they come from all varieties: fashion, music, personality-driven, and it’s fun to listen to them all. You know within the first few minutes whether something is going to work for you or not, but I know in my mind what I want to do, but sometimes people will come in with something I haven’t thought of that I think ‘Okay, that’s absolutely perfect for us’.”
And while Haskins pointed out that there is nothing officially “on the plate” when it comes to web series spun from already existing CW series, he wouldn’t rule it out forever.
“I think some web series in the past have not been as successful as they could be because the characters that they are portraying are really just C or D characters, and therefore I don’t know how breakthrough that’s going to be. I think in order to do a web series, you really have to be about a part of the story that’s going to be on-air as well,” he offered.
What kinds of programming are you most excited to see on CWD? And do any of their already-announced originals sound like shows you’d want to see turned into full series on television, as well? Let us know your thoughts in comments below.