Three years ago, The CW signed a lucrative deal with Netflix in which full seasons of its shows moved to the streaming service just eight days after their respective season finales aired on the linear network.
Since then, The CW has been able to take advantage of what network president Mark Pedowitz has called “the Netflix bump:” Each summer, Netflix users discovered new shows like Riverdale and, more recently, All American, which in turn boosted their profiles and ratings going into the following season.
However, that Netflix deal has now lapsed as The CW’s parent companies, CBS and WarnerMedia, prioritize their in-house OTT offerings. So as The CW rolls out its new shows this week, the network has set a new digital strategy and can no longer count on that Netflix bump for these series.
Starting with freshman series Batwoman and Nancy Drew, the network has secured in-season streaming rights on its digital platforms, meaning that all episodes of its new shows’ current season—known as the “full stack”—will be available on cwtv.com and The CW app, until 30 days before the start of the next season. At that point, the series produced by Warner Bros. TV (including Batwoman) will move to HBO Max, while the CBS TV-produced Nancy Drew will be available on CBS All Access.
Meanwhile, for The CW’s legacy series—shows that began airing on the network prior to this fall—only the five most recent episodes will be available on the network’s digital platforms, which will then continue migrating to Netflix eight days after the season finale airs.
“The out-of season decisions for the distribution of product are based on what the parent companies wish to do,” Pedowitz told Adweek. “The only thing we at The CW cared about is if you’re going to no longer put them on Netflix and you’re bringing them into your in-house SVOD streaming services, that we have a full stack, that it lasts a full season, and that we have the flexibility of doing that so we can promote within that time for the series.”
While The CW’s new shows will no longer go to a rival streaming platform, the decision also deprives the network of an enormous new audience that it had tapped each year. Two years ago, Riverdale saw a big Netflix bump; Pedowitz said All American was “a phenomenal hit, comparable to Riverdale” this year, while In the Dark has also benefitted from its Netflix run this summer.
Going forward without Netflix’s marketing assistance, “it’s going to alter the way we market and communicate about our shows. I think this fall will be the last traditional type of fall launch that we do,” said Pedowitz.
Instead, “the stack” will now be a key part of the marketing campaign for all new shows, and directing viewers to catch up with the entire season online. “Then, when the shows end in May, we’re going to be marketing the stack—should they be picked up—to promote, that they can watch [ahead of] the second season,” said Pedowitz, adding that network marketing chief Rick Haskins is already talking with HBO Max and CBS All Access about “how to begin promotion and marketing for September 2020”—when Batwoman and Nancy Drew’s first seasons move to those services, respectively—”and how it benefits both sides.”
Without the Netflix bump to count on, “the biggest challenge we all have is to get the Netflix viewer, who may not pay attention to us, to come and look at our shows,” Pedowitz said. “We’re going to have to be very smart about it.”
That means a mix of paid media and PR to get this message out: “We have to say, ‘Look, we found Supernatural, Flash, The 100, Riverdale, All American, In the Dark. Why don’t you just check us out?’” Pedowitz said, who previously described this task as his network’s biggest challenge this season. “It’s a challenge, but it’s a wonderful opportunity.”
There’s also the added wrinkle of helping audiences understand that the legacy shows will continue to air on Netflix just as they always have, but that The CW has the full stack for the new series, which will ultimately migrate to other streaming homes.
“We’re going to have some consumer confusion,” Pedowitz admits. “But at the same time, there are things that make these jobs interesting and intellectually stimulating, and not the same-old, same-old. We’ve always been an outlier, and [now] we’re going to get to do that again.”