An Open Letter to The CW's Dawn Ostroff

Categories: Internet TV

Written By

April 25th, 2008

Dear Ms. Ostroff,

I've mocked you a time or two on the TVbytheNumbers.com blog, but please keep in mind I'm doing so based on all of the metrics that are available to us.  By those metrics, the CW is performing very lousy and even though I know the strike didn't help, the fact is CW was already down about 18% year over year even before it ran out of scripted shows - worse than any other broadcast network.  Because you're the chief of the network I have to put that burden on your shoulders and as the chief of the network, you should more than willingly accept that burden.

I tend to focus on the Nielsen numbers and say "bah!" to "number one on iTunes" and "hundreds of thousands of streams from the network web sites" because these numbers are typically insignificant compared to the number of television viewers.

But, I now have quite a bit of anecdotal data that suggests to me that perhaps the majority of Internet usage cannot be tracked by iTunes or even The CW's site (when you were still streaming Gossip Girl) because there are a few reasons why people turn to "questionable" methods of acquiring your show.

We can reasonably conclude that more and more all viewers want to watch television content on their own terms, be it via DVR or the Internet, and we can further reasonably conclude that among the 12-34 crowd that Gossip Girl targets that this happens even more.  As a result of your own operations, you actually encourage the show's fanbase to obtain the show in a "questionable" fashion.  Here's why:

  • They want to watch the show when they want to watch it. Not when you broadcast it
  • The show doesn't wind up on iTunes RIGHT after it airs - this week it didn't show up until Wednesday
  • Even when you were streaming via CW's web site, the shows were significantly delayed
  • On top of the delay the ads on the CW web site are seemingly 3 times as loud as the audio for the shows. It's jarring and annoying especially when it's the same ad over and over again

My advice:

  1. Put the show on iTunes at 8pm EDT Mondays. Time it to be available as soon as it's available on the east coast. I know the show carries a higher CPM premium because of your demo, but that doesn't amount to the download revenue from iTunes on a per person basis, even after Apple's cut. If young girls from the west coast want to pay extra to download the show before they can watch it on TV - let them!
  2. Make the show available on CW's web site a few HOURS after it airs. Midnight EDT would be fine, the show would be done on the west coast by then
  3. Make your streaming site better - the show looks better and is easier to watch on some of the sites that just go ahead and stream your show anyway. They're making ad revenue you should be making. You should be able to compete with all of these sites easily and get the online ad revenue for the CW.
  4. Notch down the volume a little would you?  and mix your commercials up! Sponsorship is one thing, but the same ads over and over again are annoying especially at amped up volume, and that can't be good for your sponsors

If Gossip Girl is really an Internet hit, embrace it, and be the BEST Internet site for Gossip Girl, since it is actually YOUR show. 

I don't know that will stop people from downloading torrents without advertisements - many of the kids do seem to think it's their God given right to get the content on their own terms, without advertisement, for free!  But especially since Gossip Girl seems to be a show about young people who think they should be able to do whatever they want, to some degree you need to embrace them here too. 

But you'll need to figure out how to quantify how many people are watching your show off network tv, iTunes and the CW's  own site (once you've made it the best one) because all the anecdotal data suggests that the young women especially are inspired by the "fashion" of Gossip Girl and that it leaves an imprint in their minds when they're in the department store looking at clothes and accessories.

If 2.5 million people are watching on TV, great.  But if another 2.5 are watching on the Internet - even if it's not via iTunes or the CW site, you need to be able to charge for the full number when it comes to product placement.  Especially if, as the anecdotal data suggests, almost all of the Internet viewers seem to be in your 12-34 women target audience.

I don't know if doing all of this will make enough difference.  I do know this is the wave of the future and that the genie is out of the bottle and will never be stuffed back in.  So rather than trying to control distribution, which you will never, ever be able to do, why not try to maximize it, and make as much money as you possibly can? 

I know these aren't easy decisions, and I'm not suggesting my recommendations solve everything, only that your current approach of attempting to control the distribution is very flawed.

I am sure it's the wave of the future and you're going to have to convince advertisers of that at some point anyway, if you really believe Gossip Girl is a hit on the Internet, why not start experimenting right here, right now.  Rejecting the wave doesn't pay great dividends.  Ask the record company executives who only just now after 10 years of being pummeled are starting to cry uncle and figure out how to maximize for the way things actually are, instead of the way they wish things were.

The CW seemingly has a great opportunity to deal with the way things actually are right now instead of waiting 10 years.  I hope you will take the opportunity. 

Sincerely,

Robert Seidman (Robert (at ) tvbythenumbers dot com)

 
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