March 20, 2013



The Sked’s State of the Network Reports:  NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX

Of the 10 hours each week programmed by the CW network, a grand total of 3 regularly have ratings over 0.6.  This gives rise to the question:  how long can Netflix revenues keep a network alive?  CW’s ratings are at (and sometimes below) the levels at ABC Family, which airs similar programming aimed at 18-34 year old women, but ABCF receives substantial income from cable subscription fees as well as from the commercials it airs.  To make up for that, CW is heavily dependent on its streaming deal with Netflix, which runs through the 2014-15 season, and reportedly pays the network $250M per year during its 4 year term.  But CW’s ratings, which were already down 15% last season, continue to be in steady decline, and if Netflix doesn’t choose to renew its deal, or lowers its valuation of CW’s content as part of a renegotiation, the network could go into free-fall.

CW needs some hits, and this season it found one:  ARROW, which has a 1.1 average this season, and has already been renewed.  It joins THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, still the network’s reigning hit with a 1.3 average this season, and SUPERNATURAL, impressively steady in its 8th season at 0.9.  In addition, CW has high hopes for THE ORIGINALS, the first spin-off from Vampire Diaries, which will almost certainly join its sire on Thursdays in the fall unless the pilot (which will air next month) is an outright disaster.

After that, it’s a blur of shows with half the ratings of the hit trio.  90210 is canceled and CULT surely will be, so that leaves THE CARRIE DIARIES, HART OF DIXIE and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST on the bubble.  (NIKITA, with its 0.4 average, would be a prime candidate for cancellation anywhere else, but purportedly its international sales keep it valuable.  Of course, that 0.4 is down significantly from last season’s 0.6 average, but with the rest of the schedule such a mess, it’s very possible Nikita keeps its Friday slot with AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL.)

With Vampire Diaries and The Originals likely to be paired, the one scheduling move CW has in its pocket for the fall would be splitting Arrow and Supernatural, which would make sense as neither seems to really need the other.  The problem for the network’s bubble shows is that neither Carrie nor Dixie is a natural fit with a superhero or horror series.  In theory that could help Beauty stay alive, except that it’s so underperformed its Vampire lead-in this season that giving it another prime slot seems like a waste.  The guess here is that Beauty bites the dust, while new shows are tried out with Arrow, Supernatural and one of Dixie or CarrieDixie is averaging a 0.6 (down 15% from last season) while Carrie‘s 0.5 average is distorted by its relatively high premiere, so Dixie probably has a slight edge.

For CW, though, the challenge will be to come up with a business model that can work with a set of on-air ratings that won’t support the cost of programming without an influx of additional revenues, whether from Netflix or other developing platforms.  And the other networks should pay sharp attention, because one or more of them (hi, NBC!) may find itself in a similar place sooner than it thinks.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."