To Market Its Sunday-Night Expansion, The CW Has ‘Completely Torn Up the Rule Book’

The network is programming six nights a week for the first time since 2009

Supergirl and a Charmed reboot were chosen for The CW's new Sunday night because both shows have brand recognition. - Credit by Sources: The CW
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This Sunday, for the first time in nine years, The CW will be expanding to a sixth night of programming. And while the move has already helped the network’s bottom line—this summer, the additional night of inventory fueled a 15 percent increase in upfront volume—The CW now faces a tougher challenge: making sure audiences are aware of the change.

In marketing the network’s new Sunday night, which features Supergirl and a reboot of Charmed, “we’ve completely torn up the rule book in terms of our media plans,” said Rick Haskins, evp, marketing and digital programs, The CW. “In many ways, this is a throwback from a marketing perspective, because it is a linear play, as opposed to an overall, multiplatform play.”

The CW stopped programming on Sundays in 2009 but had “on and off” discussions about returning to Sundays for the past seven years, said president Mark Pedowitz. “Our affiliates have been asking for it for years.”

The timing finally seemed right, given that The CW has seen two seasons of multiplatform growth in its key demos and “there was a belief that as we were growing our digital portion of this platform, that it was important that we grow our broadcast footprint and remain a leader in digital and social,” said Pedowitz.

Plans were solidified in July 2017, and The CW board gave the official go-ahead to the Sunday expansion last December.

Once Sinclair, which owns or operates dozens of CW affiliates, endorsed the plan, “we were off to the races,” said Pedowitz. Within a month, all of the other affiliates signed on, and The CW announced the Sunday expansion in February.

One early key element of the network’s marketing strategy for Sundays was deciding which shows to schedule on the new evening. “By putting Supergirl there, we put a tentpole show for us, opening up the night,” said Pedowitz. And the Charmed reboot “has name-brand significance. It gave us two pieces of female-empowerment programming that actually had some recognition.”

Raising awareness of the Sunday move, though, “is not an easy task. In today’s world, it is going to be challenging,” said Haskins.

Because The CW wanted to treat the Sunday expansion as more of a product launch than just another TV debut, it worked with Wong Doody, an advertising agency with a client list of consumer products and services, versus a more traditional entertainment-based agency.

They settled on a two-tiered approach, starting with highlighting the Sunday expansion via 10-second spots that began running Aug. 1 on The CW’s affiliates. Then, closer to the premiere, it rolled out separate campaigns for Charmed and Supergirl, with Sundays as the secondary message.

While the network wouldn’t normally spend media dollars during the day on Sunday, research from its media agency, OMD, showed that total-day HUT (homes using television) levels among adults 18-49 across all TV stations are higher on Sundays than any other day of the week. So the network is running spots during the day—on both affiliates and outside media, including radio—to drive audiences to watch that night.

The campaign also includes out-of-home, with billboards and malls, and digital. “I go where my viewer is, and that’s where our viewers are,” said Haskins.

For its outside media spend, The CW will use its own marketing dollars through the second week of its new season (which began Oct. 9 with its first season premieres). It will then switch to co-op marketing dollars from its affiliates, to continue the outside media push.

The campaign “requires a lot of resources to get the public aware in a very fragmented universe,” said Pedowitz. “We think we have a unique proposition in the fact that we have these two tentpole scripted shows. And we’re just going to hammer it out, making people aware and altering viewing habits.”

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV/Media Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.