The CW network has become a staple in the industry, known for programmes that tap into the core of young audiences and pop culture.
Starting with just a few classic shows like Gilmore Girls and The OC, the network grew to be a dominant force over the years. After scoring consecutive hits such as the teen drama Gossip Girl to the beloved Supernatural, the CW went on to produce ongoing successes like Riverdale and the many DCU small-screen shows.
However, market changes are forcing the network reinvent itself. As The CW is entering a new phase, it aims to expand its reach, attract a more diverse audience, and use digital platforms to compete in a changing market.
In a recent interview Entertainment President of the CW Network, Brad Schwartz spoke to Parrot Analytics about these plans. This article uses our data to examine the CW's past success as a brand and how that may impact its plans for the future.
The CW’s established brand
As Brad Schwartz notes, the CW has created a brand of understanding popular and youth culture, which, in turn, are drivers of general mainstream culture. Countless shows, from classics such as Smallville and The Vampire Diaries to newer series, like Riverdale and The Flash, have shaped the network's reputation.
The success of The CW’s titles is reflected in the Parrot Analytics data. For instance, over the last year, The Flash has been the 25th most in-demand title worldwide. The superhero series recorded 40.7x the demand average between January 2022 and March 2023.
Another chart comparing the most popular CW titles shows us that legacy series Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries were the next most popular titles after The Flash. Supernatural earned 31.6x the demand average during the period, while The Vampire Diaries had 29.6x the demand average. The series' ability to achieve widespread appeal, as well as maintain long-term fan loyalty has made this type of content an anchor for the network.
In tandem, other DCU shows have also earned the spotlight. Superman and Lois recorded 25.9x the demand average in the period, while Supergirl recorded 17.9x the average. Finally, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow had 17.5x the average.
As expected, the network’s hit teen show Riverdale also ranks among the most popular titles, having earned 22.6x the demand average. Meanwhile, the sports drama All American rounds out the list with 14.9x the demand average over the period.
Despite operating only in the U.S. market, the CW has made its shows available worldwide by partnering with streaming platforms, specifically Netflix and HBO Max. This has allowed the network’s original content to find great success all over the world.
The Worldview data graphic for the CW shows that the biggest markets for the network next to the U.S. include European markets, such as the U.K., Germany, Bulgaria and the Netherlands, as well as, Brazil, Australia, India and South Africa.
Additionally, according to the data, eight out of the ten most in-demand CW originals were among the 100 most popular titles available on Netflix worldwide from January 2022 to March 2023. The only shows missing from the list were All American, which ranked 119th, and Superman and Lois which is only available on HBO Max.
Global Demand Awards
Similarly, the success of the network’s series is also reflected in the Global Demand Awards. The Flash won in the Superhero category in 2020, and has been nominated several other times. Other DCU shows have also been nominated multiple times, namely Supergirl and Arrow.
Furthermore, other CW titles were present among the nominees in 2020, including The 100 and Supernatural. The two titles were competing in the same category, Most In-Demand Series Ending on a High Note. Meanwhile in 2021, Legacies was nominated for the Most In-Demand Sci-Fi & Fantasy Series.
New stage and brand redefinition
However, with the decline of linear TV, catering to a young demographic is limiting. To deal with market changes, the CW is adapting on two main fronts: leveraging digital platforms and producing content to appeal to a larger audience.
For Brad Schwartz, the question lies in how to broaden the network’s appeal while still keeping the CW brand and its way of doing things. He points out that the network has the tremendous strategic advantage of having both an ad-supported, free-to-access streaming platform and a broadcast platform. This is a unique feature of the CW that allows it to have a deep reach into the U.S. market, be brand-consistent in every platform and provide vast sums of content to be accessed. For these reasons, Schwartz emphasizes leveraging the company’s privileged position to its fullest potential.
In tandem with investing in the ad-supported streaming service, the CW is also hoping to cater to a broader audience by adding live sports to the programming. They have acquired the rights to broadcast LIV Golf, which Schwartz describes as a thrilling opportunity. “We have to go out and be really strategic,” claims the network president, adding that it’s an “exciting next step for the CW and one that we hope to build upon”.
The inaugural broadcast of the LIV Golf League at the end of February didn’t draw an exceptional number of viewers. However, Parrot Analytics’ industry strategist, Brandon Katz, points out that this is the network’s first venture into live sports, thus, it will take time to cultivate and shape audience viewership towards this type of content. He also emphasizes the significance of sports content to linear TV, asserting that it is even more popular than scripted series.
Additionally, the CW is broadening their scope to venture into less charted territories. Schwartz speculates that investing in horror shows, for instance, could be a positive pathway for the network. The network has already been branching out into the genre with the launch of their original series Two Sentences Horror Stories in 2019. The show earned an average of 2.9x over the last year, peaking at 9.2x the demand average.
Overall, the CW has enjoyed a decade of success thanks to its well-known programs, which remain a part of pop culture today. However, to stay competitive in the streaming market, they are diversifying their young demographic into a wider audience. They hope to further expand the network's reach with an ad-supported streaming service to ensure its global presence in the future.