|Type||Free-to-air television network|
|Founded||January 24, 2006|
|Slogan||Dare to Defy|
|Headquarters||Burbank, California, U.S.|
|Parent||The CW Network, LLC|
|September 18, 2006|
The CW Television Network (commonly referred to as just The CW) is an American English-language free-to-air television network that is operated by The CW Network, LLC, a limited liability joint venture between the CBS Entertainment Group unit of ViacomCBS; and the Studios and Networks division of AT&T's WarnerMedia, the parent company of Warner Bros., former majority owner of The WB. The network's name is an abbreviation derived from the first letters of the names of its two parent corporations (CBS and Warner Media.).
The CW Television Network made its debut on September 18, 2006, after its two predecessors, UPN and The WB, respectively ceased independent operations on September 15 and 17 of that year. The CW's first two nights of programming - on September 18 and 19, 2006 - consisted of reruns and launch-related specials. The CW marked its formal launch date on September 20, 2006, with the two-hour premiere of the seventh cycle of America's Next Top Model. Originally, the network's programming lineup was intended to appeal mainly to women between the ages of 18 and 34, although starting in 2011 the network increased in programming that appeals to men. As of August 2017, the CW's audience is 50% male and 50% female. The network currently runs programming seven days a week: airing Mondays through Fridays in the afternoon (The CW Daytime) and Sundays through Fridays in prime time, along with a Saturday morning live-action educational programming block produced by Litton Entertainment called One Magnificent Morning, which is the successor to the animation block Vortexx.
It is also available in Canada on pay television providers through stations owned-and-operated by ViacomCBS and affiliates that are located within proximity to the Canada-United States border (whose broadcasts of CW shows are subject to simultaneous substitution laws imposed by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, if a Canadian network holds the broadcast rights); it is also available through two affiliates that are classified in the United States as superstations - New York City affiliate WPIX and Los Angeles affiliate KTLA.
Additionally, The CW is available in Mexico through affiliates located near the Mexico-U.S. border (such as KFMB-DT2/San Diego-Tijuana, KECY-DT3 in El Centro, California, KVIA-DT2 in El Paso, and KCWT-CD with simulcasters KMBH-LD2 KNVO-DT4 in McAllen-Brownsville, Texas and XHRIO-TV in Matamoros, Tamaulipas) on pay television providers. In both Canada and Mexico, some CW affiliate signals originating from the U.S. are receivable over-the-air in border areas depending on the station's signal coverage.
UPN and The WB both began just as the Fox network had started to secure a foothold with American television audiences. The two networks launched to limited fanfare and generally mediocre to poor results. However, over the subsequent seasons, both were able to air several series that became quite popular (such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek: Voyager, 7th Heaven, Dawson's Creek, Charmed, Smallville and America's Next Top Model). Towards the end of their first decade on the air, The WB and UPN were in decline, unable to reach the audience share or have the effect that Fox had gained within its first decade, much less that of the Big Three networks (ABC, CBS and NBC). In the eleven years that UPN and The WB were in operation, the two networks lost a combined $2 billion. Chris-Craft Industries, Viacom and Time Warner officials had discussed a possible merger of UPN and The WB as early as September 1995, only eight months after their respective launches; however, discussions ultimately broke down over issues on how to combine Chris-Craft and Tribune Broadcasting's station interests in the proposal to merge the networks, since the two companies' station portfolios overlapped with one another in several major markets. By 2003, however, Time Warner became mired in several debt problems. The company had already been responsible for shutting down Warner Bros.' in-house animation department and for selling off major portions of the conglomerate, such as the 2004 sale of Warner Bros. Records and the rest of Warner Music Group to an investor group led by Edgar Bronfman Jr. and Thomas H. Lee Partners.
Executives from CBS and Time Warner announced on January 24, 2006, that they would respectively shut down UPN and The WB, and combine resources to form a new broadcast network, to be known as The CW Television Network, that would - at the outset - feature programming from both of its predecessors-to-be as well as new content developed specifically for the new network. CBS chairman Leslie Moonves explained that the name of the new network was formed from the first letters of CBS and Warner Bros, joking, "We couldn't call it the WC for obvious reasons." Although some executives reportedly disliked the new name, Moonves stated in March 2006 that there was "zero chance" the name would change, citing research claiming 48% of the target demographic were already aware of the CW name.
In May 2006, The CW announced that it would pick up a combined thirteen programs from its two predecessors to air as part of the network's inaugural fall schedule: seven series held over from The WB (7th Heaven, Beauty and the Geek, Gilmore Girls, One Tree Hill, Reba, Smallville and Supernatural) and six held over from UPN (America's Next Top Model, Veronica Mars, Everybody Hates Chris, Girlfriends, All of Us and WWE SmackDown). Upon the network's launch, The CW chose to use the scheduling model utilized by The WB due in part to the fact that it had a more extensive base programming schedule than UPN, allowing for a larger total of weekly programming hours for the new network to fill. (The WB carried 30 hours of programming each week because it had a children's program block and a daytime lineup that UPN did not offer; UPN was primarily a prime time-only network with 10 weekly hours of network programming at the time of the network's shutdown.)
Like both UPN and The WB, The CW targets its programming towards younger audiences. CBS and Time Warner hoped that combining their networks' schedules and affiliate lineups would strengthen The CW into a fifth "major" broadcast network. One week before the network's official launch, on September 11, 2006, a new, full version of the network website was launched; the website began to feature more in-depth information about The CW's shows.
The CW launched with a premiere special / launch party from the CBS-produced Entertainment Tonight at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California on September 18, 2006, after a repeat of the tenth-season finale of 7th Heaven; the same schedule was repeated on September 19, with the sixth-season finale of Gilmore Girls airing in the second hour of prime time. The network continued to air season finales from the previous season through the remainder of the first week, except for America's Next Top Model and WWE SmackDown, which respectively began their new seasons on September 20 and 22, with two-hour premieres. When Top Model made its network premiere on September 20, 2006, The CW scored a 3.4 rating/5 share (with hourly ratings of 3.1/5 and 3.6/6; The CW placed fifth overall) in the Nielsen household ratings. It scored a 2.6 rating among adults 18-49, finishing fourth in that age demographic and beating the 2.2 rating earned by Fox on that night. The network's second week consisted of season and series premieres for all of its other series from September 25 to October 1, with the exception of Veronica Mars, which debuted its third season on October 3.
Despite having several of the most popular programs carried over from UPN and The WB as part of its schedule, The CW - even though it experienced some success with newer programs that launched in subsequent seasons which became modest hits - largely struggled to gain an audience foothold throughout its first five years on the air. Because of declining viewership for the network during the 2007-08 season and effects from the Writers Guild of America strike, the network announced on March 4, 2008, that it would eliminate its comedy department (dismissing executive vice president of comedy Kim Fleary and senior vice president of comedy Steve Veisel), while also combining its drama and current programming departments into a single scripted programming unit. The corporate restructuring resulted in the layoffs of approximately 25 to 30 employees. It also included the elimination of certain positions, other newly opened positions being left unfilled, layoffs from the Kids' WB unit (as the block was set to be replaced by The CW4Kids on May 24), and the elimination and transfer of marketing positions at The CW Plus to the network's marketing department.
On May 9, 2008, The CW announced that it would lease its Sunday lineup (then running from 5:00 to 10:00p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time) to production company Media Rights Capital (MRC). As Sundays have historically been a low-rated night for the network during its first two seasons on the air (due to stiff competition from CBS, ABC and Fox's strong Sunday lineups, and complicated further by NBC's acquisition of Sunday Night Football in September 2006, shortly before The CW debuted), the move allowed The CW to concentrate on its Monday through Friday prime time schedule, while giving MRC the right to develop and schedule programs of its own choosing and reap advertising revenue generated by the lineup. The Sunday series that were scheduled - two reality series (4Real and In Harm's Way) and two scripted series (romantic dramedy Valentine and drama Easy Money) - performed poorly in the ratings (averaging only 1.04 million viewers), prompting The CW to scrap its agreement with MRC and program Sunday nights on its own starting on November 30, 2008. With no first-run programming available to run on Sundays as a backup, the network added reruns of The Drew Carey Show and Jericho, and movies to replace the MRC-produced programs.
One of the shows carried over to the network from UPN, WWE Friday Night SmackDown, ended its run on The CW after the September 26, 2008, episode due to negotiations ending between the WWE and The CW on renewing the program. Representatives for The CW later confirmed that it had chosen not to continue carrying SmackDown because the network had redefined its target audience as exclusively females 18 to 34 years old, whereas Smackdown targeted a predominantly male audience. Following Smackdowns move to MyNetworkTV that same season, the Fox-owned network (which launched the same month as The CW's debut, albeit two weeks earlier, on September 5, 2006) began beating The CW in the Friday ratings every week from that program's debut on the network, though The CW continued to beat MyNetworkTV overall.
The CW generally struggled in the Nielsen ratings from its inception, primarily placing fifth in all statistics tabulated by Nielsen (total audience viewership and demographic ratings). On several occasions, The CW was even outrated by the Spanish language network Univision. This led to speculation within the industry (including a May 16, 2008 article in The Wall Street Journal) that CBS, Time Warner or both companies might abandon the venture if ratings did not improve. However, The CW's fortunes were buoyed in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 television seasons thanks to increased ratings among females in the 18-34 demographic and the buzz that some of its newer series (such as Gossip Girl, 90210 and The Vampire Diaries) had generated with audiences. Executives with CBS Corporation and Time Warner also emphasized their commitment to the network.
On May 5, 2009, The CW announced that it would give the five hours of network time on Sundays back to its affiliated stations that fall, effectively becoming a weeknight-only network in prime time, in addition to The CW Daytime and The CW4Kids blocks (the latter block, airing on Saturday mornings, would remain the only weekend programming supplied by the network). This change meant the Sunday late afternoon repeat block that The CW inherited from The WB (formerly branded by that network as "EasyView") was discontinued. Subsequently, in mid-May, 65% of The CW's affiliates, including those carrying The CW Plus, signed agreements to continue to air the replacement MGM Showcase movie package on Sundays, which was offered as a traditional syndicated film package meant for The CW's former prime time slot on that night.
On April 28, 2011, Mark Pedowitz was appointed by the network to succeed original president of entertainment Dawn Ostroff; Pedowitz was made the network's first president and assumed broader responsibilities in The CW's business operations than Ostroff had. As president of entertainment, Ostroff oversaw entertainment operations while John Maatta, the network's chief operating officer, handled business affairs; both reported to a board composed of CBS and Warner Bros. executives. Maatta began reporting to Pedowitz as a result of the latter's appointment as network president. Pedowitz revealed that the core target demographic of the network would not change, though The CW would attempt to lure new viewers. Pedowitz began looking to bring comedies back to The CW after Ostroff had publicly declared that the difficulty of developing comedies for its target demographic was the reason for their removal from the network following the 2008-09 season (with Everybody Hates Chris, and The Game - a spin-off of Girlfriends - becoming the last comedies to be cancelled). The network also ordered more episodes of its original series and ran them consecutively starting on September 12 through the first week of December without repeats. In July 2012, Pedowitz no longer referred to the target demographic of The CW as women 18-34, but rather that it would now be an "18-34 adult network".
The introduction of action-superhero series Arrow, based on DC Comics' Green Arrow, received favorable reviews from critics and became a hit with audiences when it premiered. As evidence of the network's refocusing toward a broader audience, Arrow not only premiered to some of the highest viewership totals in the network's history (the third-highest overall as of 2015 , behind the series premieres of The Vampire Diaries and The Flash), but it also gave the network its strongest performance in the demographic of males 18-34 since Smallville ended its run in May 2011. The strength of Arrow, combined with the stability of The Vampire Diaries and a rejuvenated Supernatural, gave The CW a much-needed win. The network also found success with its summer programming in 2013 with the revival of the U.S. version of the improv comedy series Whose Line Is It Anyway?, which later became part of the network's fall-to-spring schedule.
The introduction of Vampire Diaries spin-off The Originals successfully extended that franchise and contributed to the network's momentum. Arrow continued to perform strongly, leading to a spin-off of its own with The Flash, which surpassed The Vampire Diaries as the highest-rated premiere in the network's history and became the most-watched show on the network. Jane the Virgin earned some of the highest critical praise of any series during the 2014-15 television season, and became the first CW series ever to be nominated for, and win, a Golden Globe Award, with lead actress Gina Rodriguez winning the Golden Globe for "Best Actress in a Comedy or Variety Series".
Overall, the network ended the 2014-15 season posting its highest average total viewership in a single television season since 2007-08 with 2.15 million viewers, a 12% increase in total viewership year-to-year; The CW also posted its highest seasonal demographic ratings among males ages 18-49 with a 0.8 share.
Expanding on the success of the network's DC Comics franchise, Arrow/Flash spin-off DC's Legends of Tomorrow premiered to high ratings for the network and became the most-watched show on the network's Thursday night block in two years. The 2015-16 season also saw Crazy Ex-Girlfriend become one of the most critically acclaimed shows of the season and the second show on the network to be nominated for, and win, a Golden Globe Award, with actress Rachel Bloom winning a Golden Globe Award for "Best Actress in a Comedy or Variety Series".
The network's DC Comics lineup expanded again with Supergirl being moved to the network from CBS for its second season. The debut of Archie Comics-based Riverdale signaled the network's foray into using preexisting media properties in hopes of creating new television series with built-in brand awareness. This strategy led to another new DC Comics entry, Black Lightning, and a rebooted Dynasty. While it met with poor ratings, Dynasty proved lucrative thanks to off-network streaming deals struck based on the strong appeal of the brand.
On February 14, 2018, The CW announced that it would add a 2-hour primetime block on Sunday nights beginning in the fourth quarter of 2018, returning the network to Sundays for the first time since the lease to Media Rights Capital ended in 2009, as well as expanding The CW's primetime slate from 10 hours a week to 12. Discussions with CBS and Warner Bros. about the expansion began as early as July 2017; both gave their approval to the move that December, with the network reaching clearance deals with key affiliate partners in early 2018.
On June 12, 2018, AT&T received antitrust approval to acquire Warner Bros. parent Time Warner, with the acquisition closing two days later. Time Warner was renamed WarnerMedia and AT&T became a co-owner of The CW with CBS.
The mining of intellectual property continued with the network debuting reboots of Charmed, Roswell, and Originals spin-off Legacies during the 2018-19 season. Despite modest ratings, their renewals - along with the renewal of the entire 2018-19 CW lineup (absent those series already previously announced as ending) - reflected the value of their brands as assets to network co-owners CBS and Warner Bros., which own the underlying intellectual properties of all the series and receive the windfall of selling them to off-network buyers. This strategy continued with the premieres of the new DC Comics series Batwoman, Riverdale spin-off Katy Keene, and Nancy Drew.
The CW airs its prime time programming for only two hours on Sunday through Friday evenings, compared to the three hours on Monday through Saturdays and four hours on Sunday nights programmed by the three longest-established networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC. This "common prime" scheduling (which was originated by Fox when it launched its primetime schedule in April 1987, and later adopted by CW predecessors The WB and UPN when they launched in January 1995) allows the option for affiliates to air either a local newscast, syndicated programming or both during the 10:00-11:00 p.m. (Eastern and Pacific Time) time period. As with The WB and UPN, The CW does not run network programming on Saturday nights - even though it maintains a syndicated children's program block on Saturday mornings - allowing affiliates to run syndicated programs, sports, movies or network programs that were preempted from earlier in the week because of special programming carried by the station, in the 8:00-10:00 p.m. (Eastern and Pacific) time period (MyNetworkTV also does not carry any weekend prime time programming, having turned network time on Saturday evenings over to its affiliates in March 2007).
The CW is also tied with NBC (if its morning news program Today is not counted) for the fewest daytime hours programmed by any of the major broadcast networks, running only one hour of programming each weekday afternoon (compared to 4 daytime hours on CBS and three hours on ABC). The CW, unlike the "Big Four" broadcast networks, also does not air any national newscasts, network-supplied sports, or late-night programming.
Because of these factors, The CW's affiliates handle the responsibility of programming non-network time periods, with the majority of its stations filling those slots mainly with syndicated programming. However, some of the network's affiliates broadcast their own local news and/or sports programs (either produced by the station itself or through outsourcing agreements with an affiliate of another network). Many affiliates also carry telecasts of basketball, football and in some cases, other collegiate sporting events (such as baseball or hockey) that are produced by syndicators such as American Sports Network and Raycom Sports, while a few carry games from local teams of major professional sports leagues such as Major League Baseball and the NBA.
The CW currently provides 20 hours of regularly scheduled network programming each week, over the course of seven days. The network provides twelve hours of prime time programming to its owned-and-operated and affiliated stations on Sunday through Fridays from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time. Outside of prime time, an hour of daytime programming is also offered Monday through Fridays from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. in all time zones, in the form of tabloid talk show The Jerry Springer Show (though a few affiliates - such as WPIX in New York City, KDAF in Dallas-Fort Worth, KPXJ in Shreveport and WCCB in Charlotte - carry the show earlier in the afternoon); also, a three-hour educational programming block called "One Magnificent Morning" (which airs as part of the CW schedule through a time-lease agreement with Litton Entertainment) airs on Saturday mornings from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. in all time zones.
The weekday daytime hour provided by the network and the Litton-produced Saturday morning block (the latter of which is subject to scheduling variances similar to the weekday hour in some markets, such as in Atlanta and San Diego) are designed to be tape delayed and are therefore recommended to air in the same time slot in all time zones, though both are broadcast one hour earlier on affiliates of The CW Plus in the Central, Mountain and Alaska Time Zones. In Guam, CW Plus affiliate KTKB-LD in Hagåtña airs the CW schedule day and date on a one-day tape delay from its initial broadcast because of the time difference between Guam and the continental United States as the island is on the west side of the International Date Line. As of 2019, Supernatural (which originally aired on The WB) is the only CW series carried over from either of the network's respective predecessors that continues to be broadcast on the network.
The CW formerly aired short segments during commercial breaks within certain episodes of its programs known as "Content Wraps" - a play on the network's name - in order to advertise one company's product during part or the entirety of a commercial break, a concept since classified under the term of native advertising. The entertainment magazine series CW Now was inspired in part by the success of the Content Wraps as it was intended to be a series with product placement; the program was cancelled in 2008, after a single 23-episode season. For the 2006-07 season, The CW reached an agreement with American Eagle Outfitters to incorporate tie-ins with the company's aerie clothing line as part of the Content Wrap concept within the network's Tuesday night schedule, which included subjects in the commercials commenting on plot points in each of the shows. The agreement was cut down to regular advertising in February 2007, after a fan backlash by viewers of both shows and general criticism of the campaign.
The CW does not produce any national news content, and the majority of its affiliates do not have their own autonomous news operations. The network currently has only four affiliates that produce their own local news programming, all of which were carry-overs from previous affiliations: WPIX in New York City and KTLA in Los Angeles started their news departments as independent stations and/or during early affiliations with other networks including DuMont; WCCB in Charlotte, North Carolina started its news operation as a Fox affiliate; and WISH-TV in Indianapolis (which became a CW affiliate on January 1, 2015) started its news operation as an ABC affiliate before affiliating with CBS in 1956. KTLA has the largest number of weekly hours devoted to local news programming of any CW affiliate with 78¾ hours of scheduled news each week.
Eight other CW-affiliated stations maintained in-house news operations, but have since disaffiliated from the network or discontinued in-house production:
News programming on CW affiliates - if the station carries any - is often outsourced to another major network affiliate in the market, especially if they are operated as part of a duopoly or management agreement, such as Nexstar Media Group's respective CW-Fox duopolies of KWGN-TV/KDVR in Denver and KPLR-TV/KTVI in St. Louis (the Fox stations in both duopolies - KDVR and KTVI - were formerly owned by Local TV, with Tribune-owned KWGN and KPLR respectively consolidating with those stations through local marketing agreements formed as part of a wider partnership involving Local TV, which Tribune bought outright in 2013);Evansville, Indiana affiliate WTVW (which joined The CW in January 2013) and ABC affiliate WEHT (a virtual duopoly formed through Nexstar Broadcasting Group's 2011 purchase of WEHT and trade of WTVW to partner group Mission Broadcasting); and the CW-CBS O&O duopoly of KMAX-TV/KOVR in Sacramento (the former of which has produced a morning newscast, Good Day Sacramento, since it was a UPN owned-and-operated station, and - despite the two becoming a duopoly in 2005 - has remained separate from a more traditional morning show on KOVR pre-CBS This Morning, which produces KMAX's evening newscast).
The scheduling of news programming on The CW's affiliates often mirrors that of Fox stations, with morning newscasts (designed to compete with the national morning shows on ABC, CBS and NBC within the 7:00-9:00 a.m. timeslot; in duopolies, these are typically an extension of a sister station's morning newscast) and a prime time newscast within the 10:00-11:00 p.m. Eastern/Pacific (9:00-10:00 p.m. Central/Mountain) time slot. Rarely (but more common on the few major-market CW affiliates with in-house news departments), they may also include midday and/or early evening newscasts, including the network newscast slot of 6:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. CT.
On September 23, 2006, the Kids' WB children's programming block - which originated on The WB in September 1995 and continued to be produced by Warner Bros. Television - was carried over to The CW as part of its inaugural programming lineup; although the network on which it originated ceased operations the week before, the "Kids' WB" branding was retained for the block. On October 2, 2007, through a joint decision between corporate parents Warner Bros. Television and CBS Corporation, The CW announced that it would discontinue the Kids' WB block due to competition from cable channels aimed at the demographic (such as Cartoon Network, which carried many series shared with the block and vice versa, Nickelodeon and Disney Channel), as well as the effects of children's advertising limits, and would sell the programming rights to the network's Saturday morning block to 4Kids Entertainment (which at the time of the announcement, had produced a competing children's programming block, 4Kids TV, for Fox).Kids' WB ended its run on May 17, 2008 (though some CW affiliates that delayed the block to Sundays, such as Atlanta O&O WUPA, aired the block for the last time on May 18).
The following week on May 24, 4Kids took over responsibility for The CW's Saturday morning children's lineup, with the debut of a new block called The CW4Kids. The block's lineup initially consisted mostly of programs carried over from Kids' WB, before eventually adding 4Kids-produced shows such as Chaotic as well as new seasons of Yu-Gi-Oh! and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The block was rebranded into Toonzai on August 14, 2010 (though The CW4Kids name was retained as a sub-brand to fulfill branding obligations that the network had to comply with per 4Kids Entertainment's contract to lease The CW's Saturday morning timeslots); Toonzai ended its run on August 18, 2012.
On July 3, 2012, Saban Brands and Kidsco Media Ventures, affiliates of Saban Capital Group, entered into an agreement to program the five-hour Saturday morning time slot with a new action-adventure and comedy programming block for The CW. TheCW4Kids/Toonzai was replaced by Vortexx on August 25, 2012, featuring programs such as Power Rangers Lost Galaxy and WWE Saturday Morning Slam, the latter of which marked the return of WWE programming to the network since WWE Smackdown moved to MyNetworkTV in 2008.
On June 5, 2014, The CW announced an agreement with Litton Entertainment to program a block of live-action series designed to comply with the FCC's educational programming guidelines. Vortexx (which was the last remaining non-educational children's block on the major U.S. broadcast networks) was replaced by One Magnificent Morning on October 4, 2014. The block features a mix of wildlife and lifestyle-themed programs, similar in vein to those featured on the Litton-produced blocks aired by ABC and CW sister network CBS (one of its initial programs, Expedition Wild, was moved over to "One Magnificent Morning" from the ABC block; while one of the CW block's early entries, Rock the Park, moved to "Litton's Weekend Adventure" after one season). On January 7, 2016, The CW and Litton announced a five-year renewal for the block, extending it through the 2020-21 broadcast season. Starting with the 2017-18 broadcast season, the block's running time was reduced to three hours and began airing from 8:00am to 11:00am. The CW returned the two hours of reclaimed time to the affiliates.
The CW has eight owned-and-operated stations, and current and pending affiliation agreements with 220 additional television stations encompassing 51 states, the District of Columbia and three U.S. possessions. Counting only conventional CW affiliates and over-the-air affiliates of The CW Plus, the network has an estimated combined national reach of 100% of all households in the United States (or 330,866,316 Americans with at least one television set); this makes The CW the largest U.S. broadcast network by population reach percentage. Since January 2016, three U.S. states (Delaware, New Hampshire, and New Jersey) lack a locally licensed CW affiliate, largely due to a lack of a need for a local affiliate as those states are located within the broadcast ranges of stations in nearby states. Delaware is served by Philadelphia O&O WPSG and Salisbury, Maryland affiliate WMDT-DT2, while New Hampshire is served by three CW stations based in surrounding states (including Boston affiliate WLVI). New Jersey is served by WPSG and New York City affiliate WPIX.
As a newer broadcast network, The CW maintains affiliations with low-power stations (broadcasting either in analog or digital) in a few markets, such as Reno, Nevada (KRNS-CD) and Boise, Idaho (KYUU-LD). In some markets, including both of those mentioned, these stations also maintain digital simulcasts on a subchannel of a co-owned/co-managed full-power television station. The CW also maintains a sizeable number of subchannel-only affiliations, the majority of which are with stations in cities located outside of the 50 largest Nielsen-designated markets and receive the network's programming via The CW Plus; the largest subchannel-only CW affiliate by market size, as of May 31, 2017, is KFMB-TV DT2 in San Diego, California.
Currently, the Sinclair Broadcast Group is the largest operator of CW stations by numerical total, owning or providing services to 25 CW-affiliated stations, nine subchannel-only affiliates and one cable-only affiliate, covering 17% of all U.S. television markets; Nexstar Media Group is the largest operator of CW stations in terms of overall market reach, owning or providing services to 28 CW stations (including its largest affiliates in Los Angeles), covering 28% of the U.S.
On the day of the network launch announcement, The CW immediately announced it had reached ten-year affiliation agreements with Tribune Broadcasting and CBS Television Stations. Tribune originally committed 16 stations that were previously affiliated with The WB (including its flagship broadcast stations WGN-TV in Chicago, KTLA in Los Angeles and WPIX in New York City; another committed station, KSWB-TV in San Diego, joined Fox in August 2008, and two others, WLVI-TV in Boston and WCWN in Albany, New York were respectively sold by Tribune to Sunbeam Television and Freedom Communications shortly after the network launched), while CBS committed 11 of its UPN stations (including WKBD in Detroit, WPSG in Philadelphia, KBHK-TV (now KBCW) in San Francisco and WUPA in Atlanta). These stations combined to reach 48% of all television households in the United States. Both companies also owned several UPN and WB-affiliated stations that did not join The CW in overlapping markets (such as Seattle, Philadelphia and Dallas). As part of its affiliation agreement with the network, the Tribune Company agreed to divest its ownership interest in The WB (a move it made partly to avoid shouldering shutdown costs for The WB) and did not acquire an equity stake in The CW.
The network stated that it would eventually reach 95% of all U.S. television households. In markets where separate affiliates of both UPN and The WB operated, only one station became a CW affiliate. Executives were on record as preferring the "strongest" stations among The WB and UPN's existing affiliates. As one example, the new network's first affiliate outside the core group of Tribune and CBS-owned stations, WJZY in Charlotte (which was later acquired by Fox Television Stations and converted into a Fox O&O in July 2013), was tied with Atlanta O&O WUPA as UPN's fifth highest-rated station. In most cases, it was obvious where the new network would affiliate; there were only a few markets (such as Philadelphia, Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Boston, Charlotte, and Atlanta) where the WB and UPN affiliates were both relatively strong in terms of local overall viewership. For example, one of the earliest affiliates to be announced outside the core group, WKCF in Orlando, Florida, had not only been The WB's highest-rated affiliate for the virtual entirety of that network's run, but had also been the fourth highest-rated television station in Central Florida.
Nearly all of The CW's affiliates were formerly affiliated with UPN or The WB, with very few having been independent stations or affiliates of other networks prior to joining the network; a notable exception was Las Vegas affiliate KVCW, which had been a fairly successful independent before joining The CW. Although it was generally understood that The CW was a merger of UPN and The WB, the new network's creation was not structured as a merger in the legal sense. Rather, it was one new network launching at the same time that two others shut down, although it did assume certain programming content, operations, and management from its predecessors. As such, The CW was not obligated by existing affiliations with The WB and UPN; it had to negotiate from scratch with individual stations. As a result, in several markets, the CW affiliation is on a local station different from either the former WB and UPN stations (for example, the CW affiliation in Las Vegas ended up on KVCW, instead of former WB affiliate KVMY or now-defunct former UPN affiliate KTUD-CA). The network has also affiliated with some digital subchannels, usually those launched by a local Big Four affiliate as a new service, in several other markets - especially if fewer than six commercial television stations existed at the time of affiliation, requiring The CW to carry its programming on a subchannel by default (for example, The CW opted to affiliate with a subchannel of WKRC-TV in Cincinnati - which has only five commercial full-power stations - instead of former WB affiliate WSTR-TV, which instead became an affiliate of MyNetworkTV).
Because of the availability of "instant duopoly" digital subchannels that will likely be easily available on cable and satellite, and the overall lack of a need to settle for a secondary affiliation with shows aired in problematic timeslots that would subject the timeshifted programs to lower average viewership in certain markets, both The CW and MyNetworkTV launched with far greater national coverage than that enjoyed by UPN and The WB when they both launched in January 1995. UPN, for several years, had affiliation gaps in the top 30 markets, and by 2005 managed to cover only 86% of the country. This resulted in secondary affiliations with other networks and the resulting diluted ratings when programs were shown out of their intended timeslots, or the lack of the program airing at all (a problem experienced by many fans of the Star Trek franchise with Voyager and Enterprise).
The announcement of The CW caused the largest single shakeup in U.S. broadcast television since the affiliation alliance between Fox and New World Communications in 1994 (as well as a separate alliance with Burnham Broadcasting that began a year later) and the subsequent launches of UPN and The WB the following year. While The CW's debut affected more markets, it likely did not cause the same degree of viewer confusion, as no affiliates of the four major networks dropped those affiliations to join The CW (some "Big Four" affiliations did change at this time, but for unrelated reasons). The WB and UPN were the first major television networks to shut down since the collapse of the DuMont Television Network in August 1955, although other small broadcast television networks have also ceased operations over the years.
It became clear that Fox Television Stations, which purchased several UPN-affiliated stations from that network's former co-owner Chris-Craft Industries in 2002, would be affected. Its UPN affiliates in five major markets (New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Houston) did not receive affiliations with The CW, due to the agreement with Tribune, and Fox made it clear it would not even seek carriage of the network for its UPN stations in four other markets. All network logos and references were quickly removed from Fox's UPN stations. Shortly thereafter, Fox parent News Corporation (which spun off its American media and entertainment properties into 21st Century Fox as part of the company's July 2013 corporate separation) announced that it would launch MyNetworkTV, a programming service meant to fill the two nightly prime time hours that UPN would vacate on the network's Fox-owned affiliates after The CW launched. Fox also offered the service to stations owned by other broadcasting groups.
In markets where The WB and UPN were carried on separate stations, one of the two local outlets was left out in the merger; most of the stations that did not join The CW had signed affiliation agreements with MyNetworkTV instead, while others elected to become independent stations. Some stations (mainly digital subchannels, some cable channels that were formerly part of The WB 100+ Station Group, and struggling low-power stations) which did not affiliate with either network opted instead to shut down permanently.
Like its predecessors UPN and by technicality, The WB (as none of Tribune Broadcasting's WB stations were considered to be O&Os since Time Warner held majority ownership of that network), The CW does not have owned-and-operated stations in any of the three largest U.S. television markets - New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago. The network's largest owned-and-operated station is CBS-owned WPSG in Philadelphia, which also became UPN's largest O&O after Chris-Craft Industries (which sold most of its UPN stations, including its affiliates in New York City and Los Angeles, to Fox Television Stations in 2001) had its ownership stake in that network acquired by Viacom in March 2000 (neither UPN nor the DuMont Television Network had an O&O in Chicago at all; a similar situation arose with DuMont's O&O in Los Angeles, present-day CW affiliate KTLA - which had disaffiliated from the network in 1948 shortly after the FCC ruled that it and WDTV in Pittsburgh (now KDKA-TV, a CW corporate cousin through CBS Corporation), to be O&Os through their then-owner Paramount Pictures' voting stock interest in DuMont).
Due to factors including Tribune Broadcasting's decision not to have an ownership stake in The CW, subsequent affiliation changes, and Tribune's 2019 sale to Nexstar Media Group with accompanying divestments, The CW's stations in the three respective top markets (WPIX, KTLA and WCIU) are actually affiliates of the network; CBS Corporation owns secondary stations - both independents - in two of the three markets, KCAL-TV in Los Angeles and WLNY-TV in the New York City market (however, while KCAL was owned by CBS at the network's launch, WLNY was not acquired by CBS until 2011; neither station carries CW programming, though, because of the network's affiliation deals with formerly Tribune-owned stations in those markets, and in the latter case, WLNY's over-the-air signal does not serve the entire New York City market - resulting in most residents in the metropolitan area receiving the station mainly through cable or satellite - due to being licensed to the Long Island community of Riverhead, restricting its transmitter from being located more than 15 miles (24 km) from its city of license under FCC regulations). Unlike with The WB and UPN (the latter network's founding owners, Chris-Craft and Viacom, both had their own station groups that formed UPN's core stations at its launch), only one of The CW's co-owners - CBS Corporation - maintains ownership of the network's owned-and-operated stations (since the summer 2017 sale of WPCH-TV/Atlanta, WarnerMedia holds no over-the-air assets whatsoever). KTLA was retained by Nexstar after the Tribune acquisition, while WPIX was sold to the E. W. Scripps Company. Weigel Broadcasting-owned WCIU became a CW affiliate in 2019, picking up from Fox Television Stations-owned WPWR, who had gained the affiliation from then Tribune-owned WGN in 2016.
Unlike the other major networks, The CW distributes its programming in small and certain mid-sized markets throughout the United States (generally those ranked among the bottom 110 Nielsen media markets) through The CW Plus, a separate national feed that is carried on a mixture of full-power and low-power stations in some markets, and cable-only outlets and digital subchannel affiliations on major network stations in markets that do not have enough commercial stations to support a standalone CW affiliate (several of The CW Plus's digital subchannel outlets originally operated as cable-only affiliates at the network's launch). The service offers its own master schedule of syndicated and brokered programming acquired by the network (including some feature films and infomercials) during non-network programming hours, although some CW Plus affiliates may also run local newscasts produced by a major network affiliate.
CW predecessor The WB previously had two cable-only affiliate outlets: WGN America, the national superstation feed of WGN-TV at the time, from January 1995 to October 1999 and network-operated The WB 100+ Station Group (the direct predecessor to The CW Plus), which was formed in September 1998 and had several of its cable-only outlets join The CW Plus at the CW network's launch. Not all of the network's cable-only affiliates were CW Plus outlets, WT05 in Toledo, Ohio offered its own schedule of syndicated programs during non-network hours that was programmed by its then-owner Block Communications, which also operates that market's major cable provider Buckeye CableSystem (WT05 now exists as "CW13," having been converted into a digital subchannel of Gray Television-owned ABC affiliate WTVG in October 2014). Though The CW is the only network with a station group that includes cable-only outlets, it is actually one of only three networks that have had cable-only stations within its affiliate body (ABC formerly had a cable-only affiliate in Winchester, Virginia-based TV3 Winchester until Gray shut the channel down in December 2013).
When The CW launched in September 2006, the network began branding most of its affiliates using a combination of "CW" or "The CW", and at the affiliate's choice, either the station's channel number (for example, Nashville affiliate WNAB is branded as "CW58" and Seattle O&O KSTW brands as "CW11") or the name of the city or region it serves. Examples of the latter include Philadelphia O&O WPSG (known as "The CW Philly 57" as an homage to its prior branding as an independent station), WLVI (known at launch as "Boston's CW", though it rebranded to "CW56" after being sold to Sunbeam Television), WUPA (known as "CW Atlanta" at launch, but is now known as "CW69"), Waco, Texas subchannel affiliate KWTX-DT2 (known as "CW Texas") and KVCW (branded as "CW Las Vegas"). Some stations also use the call sign either within the station logo, in on-air identification or both; examples include WNLO/Buffalo, New York and WWHO/Columbus, Ohio (WBNX/Cleveland formerly also did so until their affiliation was terminated in July 2018).
In Omaha, Nebraska, KXVO uses the dual brandings of "CW15" and "Omaha's CW". In Honolulu, Hawaii, KHON-DT2 was originally branded as "Hawaii's CW 93" (the "93" refers to the subchannel's cable channel position on Oceanic Time Warner Cable), before it was shortened to "Hawaii's CW" in September 2014. The branding once used by WKRC-DT2/Cincinnati, Ohio was "CinCW", a portmanteau with the common nickname for the city, "Cincy" (it now brands as "The CW Cincinnati"). With the exceptions of WXCW/Fort Myers and (to a somewhat lesser extent) XETV/San Diego, all CW affiliates not owned by Nexstar usually brand themselves using a version of the network logo. Mobile, Alabama CW affiliate WBPG, then known as "The Gulf Coast's CW" changed its call letters to WFNA in December 2009 and used a similar approach around their new call letters, before becoming known as "CW 55" in September 2012 and adopting a style reflective of The CW's branding techniques once again. For one year in 2016, WVTV in Milwaukee held a dual branding of "Super 18, The CW", bringing back its pre-WB branding; it eventually returned to "CW 18" in the fall of 2017 due to its owner, Sinclair Broadcast Group, wanting to hub the same branding and network/programming promotions across all their CW affiliates. WISH-TV in Indianapolis, as it had during its CBS affiliation, continues to brand solely with its channel number and calls as "WISH-TV 8", with "The CW" appended where appropriate, usually only in print and radio advertising.
Some Time Warner Cable subscribers around the country were unable to watch CW programming when the network debuted, as stations in several markets were not able to reach carriage deals with the provider to distribute the local affiliates. In markets like Charleston, South Carolina; El Paso, Texas; Honolulu, Hawaii; Palm Springs, California; Beaumont; Waco and Corpus Christi, Texas, where The CW is broadcast on a digital subchannel of one of the market's major network affiliates, there were unsuccessful attempts in getting Time Warner Cable to carry the subchannel affiliates (CW co-parent Time Warner had owned Time Warner Cable until it spun off the provider into a separate company in 2009).
Some affiliates eventually signed carriage deals with Time Warner Cable, but not all of the CW affiliates received carriage on the provider's basic cable tiers (for example, Syracuse, New York affiliate WSTQ-LP can only be viewed on digital cable channel 266 in the Ithaca market). Currently, the largest market without a known affiliate is the Johnstown-Altoona market, whose closest CW station is CBS-owned WPCW/Pittsburgh, which is carried on TWC's Johnstown and Altoona area systems; WPCW was originally targeted to serve that area before it refocused its programming toward the Pittsburgh market in the late 1990s.
On February 2, 2007, Beaumont, Texas CBS station KFDM made its CW-affiliated subchannel available to Time Warner Cable customers in the market on channel 10. On April 20, 2007, ABC affiliate KVIA-TV in El Paso, Texas began broadcasting its CW-affiliated subchannel on Time Warner Cable channel 13. On April 21, 2007, KCWQ-LP made its broadcast debut on channel 5 on Time Warner Cable in the Palm Springs area.
One of the network's major affiliate groups, Pappas Telecasting Companies, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for thirteen of its television stations on May 10, 2008. Within the petition, Pappas specifically cited the network's low ratings and lackluster performance as one of many complications that had forced it to make the filing. Several of the stations have since been sold either in business transactions with representatives involved in Pappas's bankruptcy proceedings or via station auction processes as the company winds down operations.
Although Pappas had originally stated that none of its stations would be affected at all by the closing, two stations owned by the company that were formerly affiliated with The CW have ceased operations. On May 29, 2008, Yakima, Washington affiliate KCWK (which served the south-central portion of that state) shut down and the station's offices were closed, leaving that area without locally based CW programming and forcing pay television providers to carry Los Angeles affiliate KTLA in order to provide the network's programming to their subscribers. The situation was resolved in April 2009, when Fisher Communications announced that its CBS affiliates in the area, KIMA-TV and satellite station KEPR-TV, would carry the network through DTT subchannel affiliations.
Subsequently, WLGA in Columbus, Georgia lost its CW affiliation in April 2009 to a subchannel of NBC affiliate WLTZ because of the network's concerns about Pappas' financial state; WLGA ultimately ceased operations in June 2010 as it was unable to compete in the market as an independent station; it later resumed operations in August 2012, as an affiliate of WeatherNation TV (it is now a Cozi TV affiliate).
Marianas Media signed on KTKB-LD in Hagåtña, Guam as a CW affiliate on April 20, 2009, becoming the U.S. territory's fifth commercial television outlet. However, competition from other stations in the island combined with financial problems at the Marianas, which was running the station under a local marketing agreement with the troubled KM Communications Inc., forced the station off the air on March 31, 2011. The station resumed operations the following year.
While Tribune Media had solid affiliation deals with The CW on several of its stations, it also maintained a strong affiliation alliance with Fox. But with new management and ownership taking over Tribune in 2008, it was apparent that the company would switch one of its CW-affiliated stations to Fox (at least those in markets without a Fox owned-and-operated station or a former O&O that was acquired by Local TV, which Tribune later acquired in 2013), adding to more questions surrounding The CW's future. In a March 2008 seminar by Tribune's then-chairman and CEO Sam Zell, it was revealed that the company's San Diego outlet KSWB-TV would switch its affiliation from The CW to Fox that August, with KSWB assuming the Fox affiliation from XETV-TV, which had been a Fox charter affiliate since that network's October 1986 inception. XETV (which is licensed to Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico under the ownership of Grupo Televisa but whose U.S. operations are programmed by Bay City Television) was not informed of Zell's deal until it was made public.
After the news broke, XETV planned on suing to prevent the switch because it would violate an affiliation contract that XETV had with Fox that was not set to expire until 2010. However, on July 2, 2008, XETV announced that it would join The CW on August 1 (the same day that KSWB became a Fox affiliate) and rebrand as "San Diego 6". Though twelve of Tribune's thirteen other CW-affiliated stations have remained with the network, all of them began to de-emphasize the network from their branding (e.g., "CW 11") in favor of one with a stronger local identity. On-air branding that excised the CW name began being implemented by the stations in July 2008, either on-air (in the case of KWGN-TV) or through their websites (as part of a redesign for all of the Tribune stations' websites). Some of these stations eventually began reincorporating the CW branding starting in 2011, such as KDAF/Dallas, KIAH/Houston and KRCW-TV/Portland, Oregon.
Tribune Company president and CEO Peter Liguori said in a May 2014 discussion at the MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit that he was "not pleased with where the CW is [in regards to its ratings performance]," stating that the network "should not program to [young] people who don't watch [conventional] television." Liguori also stated that he would consider collaborating with the network in regards to improving its programming slate, possibly by incorporating programs from the company's Tribune Studios unit (a production division which launched shortly after Liguori was appointed president of Tribune in November 2013) onto the network, as well as having Tribune play a larger role in The CW's management.
Speaking at Goldman Sachs' 23rd Annual Communacopia Conference in September 2014, Les Moonves acknowledged that Tribune had been looking for more input in how the network is programmed and noted that Liguori is a former programmer (having previously served in executive roles at Fox, FX and Discovery Communications), saying that "[Liguori] would like to participate. He has some good ideas. He's part of our team. Will there be some change in how the CW is structured going forward? I don't know." Moonves went on to reiterate that Tribune is "a very important part of [CBS'] future" (considering that Tribune had recently acquired the CBS affiliation for its Indianapolis station and then-CW affiliate WTTV, following disagreements between CBS and longtime affiliate WISH-TV, which would eventually take over the CW affiliation in January 2015, over reverse compensation demands by the network).
In an October 2014 interview with Broadcasting & Cable, Liguori appeared to reverse course on his previous statements and spoke of Tribune's support of the network. Liguori said in a statement, "We are very encouraged by the recent uptick in The CW['s] ratings and the positive critical response to the new primetime lineup. In particular, [CW CEO Mark Pedowitz] has put in place a programming strategy that will help the network appeal to a wider, more inclusive audience, which is important for our stations across the country. We were glad to support the launch of the new shows through editorial and promotional initiatives, and we look forward to more continued collaboration to build upon this momentum."
In January 2016, The CW and Tribune began negotiations on a new affiliation deal, as the original 10-year agreement signed at the network's inception was approaching its end. Complicating matters was the desire by The CW's parent companies, CBS and Warner Bros., to stream the network's programming as a standalone pay OTT service. The impasse in negotiations resulted in a months-long standoff between the two groups.
On May 23, 2016, The CW and Tribune announced they had come to a new affiliation agreement. As part of the deal, Tribune's Chicago flagship WGN-TV would leave the network and revert to being an independent station after nearly 21 years of being affiliated with The CW and its predecessor network, The WB. A major factor in this decision was WGN-TV's large use of local sports programming at the time, which led to many pre-emptions of the CW while WGN-TV had to move as many as 30 games a year to another local station in Chicago. The CW affiliation moved to WPWR-TV, a Fox Television Stations-owned MyNetworkTV station. On September 19, 2019, Tribune Media was acquired by Nexstar Media Group.
Roberts Broadcasting filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on October 7, 2011; the company cited the loss of the UPN affiliations on its stations in St. Louis (WRBU), Columbia, South Carolina (WZRB) and Jackson, Mississippi (WRBJ-TV) when that network shut down in favor of The CW in 2006, as much of UPN's programming consisted of minority-targeted programs that Roberts felt were compatible with their stations' target audiences (though the stations have since recovered from this setback; additionally, its station in Evansville, Indiana, WAZE-TV, had instead affiliated with The WB prior to 2006, as it was owned by South Central Communications until February 2007). The company had also been hit with lawsuits from Warner Bros. Television, Twentieth Television and CBS Television Distribution over its failure to pay fees for syndicated programming; Roberts eventually settled with Twentieth but lost the Warner Bros. and CBS cases.
On March 24, 2011, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) canceled WAZE's license for Roberts' failure to construct its digital transmitter facilities. However, the station continued to broadcast via its three-station analog translator network.
On February 20, 2012, Roberts Broadcasting announced that it was exploring the possibility of selling one or all four of its television stations in order to raise enough cash to pay off its creditors. On October 22, 2012, Roberts announced that it had sold WRBJ to the Trinity Broadcasting Network; the deal was approved by a bankruptcy court on January 17, 2013, with TBN officially taking over operational control of WRBJ five months later on May 24 (The CW would return to the Jackson market on the second digital subchannel of CBS affiliate WJTV in September 2013). On January 3, 2013, the repeater network of WAZE ceased operations; later that month on January 28, independent station WTVW hurriedly joined The CW, in order to maintain the network in the Evansville area.
On December 2, 2013, Roberts filed to sell WZRB to Radiant Light Ministries, a subsidiary of Tri-State Christian Television, for $2 million. On December 4, Roberts also filed to sell WRBU to TCT for $5.5 million. However, on December 11, the United States bankruptcy court gave initial approval for a plan by Roberts's creditors to instead transfer WRBU, WZRB and the WAZE repeaters to a trust with Ion Media Networks (a creditor in Roberts's chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings) as its beneficiary, with Roberts' attorney subsequently stating that Ion would purchase the stations for $7.75 million. Roberts had earlier proposed an alternate plan that would have had only the WAZE repeaters be transferred to the trust, which would have allowed the sale of WRBU and WZRB to TCT. The CW affiliation in Columbia moved to WKTC (with MyNetworkTV, which the station had already been affiliated with, being relegated to a secondary affiliation) in March 2014, after temporarily remaining on WZRB after its conversion into an Ion Television O&O the previous month.
The CW provides video on demand access for delayed viewing of full episodes of the network's programming through various means, including via its website at CWTV.com and its mobile app for iOS and Android devices (with programs streamable over WiFi and cellular networks), a traditional VOD service - called The CW on Demand - that is available on most traditional cable and IPTV providers, and through content deals with Hulu, iTunes and Netflix.
On January 14, 2007, The CW began streaming full-length episodes of several of its programs on the CWTV.com website. The most recent episodes of the network's shows are usually made available on The CW app and The CW on Demand the day after their original broadcast. However, due to restrictions imposed through its deal with the streaming service, streaming of the most recent episode of any CW program on Hulu is restricted until eight days after their initial broadcast, in order to encourage live or same-week (via both DVR and cable on-demand) viewing, with day-after-air streaming on either service limited to subscribers of Hulu's subscription service. The CW previously imposed a three-day delay after an episode's original airdate before making its programs available on its website and through the Hulu subscription service (then known as Hulu Plus). However, changes implemented by the network on March 15, 2012, to reduce copyright infringement of its programming content through illegal streaming and downloading internet platforms resulted in that delay being reduced to eight hours after a program's original airing through both services. Like the video-on-demand television services provided by the other U.S. broadcast networks, The CW on Demand disables fast forwarding for content provided through the service.
On October 13, 2011, the network entered into digital distribution deals with streaming services Netflix and Hulu. The four-year Netflix agreement allows its customers to instantly watch more than 700 hours of previous seasons of The CW's current scripted series, while Hulu inked a five-year deal, giving the streaming site access to next-day content from four of the five major networks (except for CW sister network CBS). The Netflix deal is estimated to be worth $1 billion, providing a much needed lifeline to the money-losing CW network and solidifying its future as a valuable asset for co-owners CBS and Warner Bros. The Netflix deal was renewed in 2016, updated to allow the streaming service to provide entire seasons of CW shows a week after their airing. The Hulu deal was discontinued at this time. In 2019, The CW and Netflix opted not to renew the deal. The respective studios of CW shows will instead sell to streaming services individually. Beginning in 2020, WarnerMedia streaming service HBO Max will be the exclusive streaming home for Warner Bros.-produced CW shows.
On October 24, 2012, The CW entered into its first video-on-demand distribution deal with a pay television provider through an agreement with Comcast that allows customers to watch the four most-recent episodes of the network's primetime shows on the cable provider's Xfinity On Demand service, along with next-day episode content. The CW On Demand, which is accessible to subscribers at no additional charge, debuted on Comcast Xfinity systems nationwide on October 25.
The CW's master feed is transmitted in 1080i high definition, with all transmission of the network's programming moving to the format in June 2012. All of the network's prime time programming has been presented in HD since March 2012 (when America's Next Top Model became the final CW program to convert to the format), with the exception of certain specials produced prior to that point (such as Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, a holiday special carried over to the network from The WB) and select movie presentations. The network's Saturday morning E/I block, One Magnificent Morning, is also broadcast in HD, with the final SD program, the two-season daytime talk show The Robert Irvine Show converting to the format for its second to last season in September 2017 (and in turn ending American broadcast network television's standard definition age).
The network is available in HD on most of its full-power affiliates, while availability of high definition content on subchannel-only or cable-exclusive affiliates varies by market; in some of these cases, the over-the-air signal is available only in standard definition (a 16:9 widescreen feed transmitted in 480i SD is presented on some over-the-air affiliates to meet minimum requirements for presentation), with the station offering an exclusive high definition feed to pay television providers. Some affiliates transmit CW programming in 720p HD due to technical considerations if the network is carried on a digital terrestrial subchannel of a station affiliated with another major network or if a primary feed CW affiliate carries more than one subchannel. Since June 2012, The CW Plus feed is also transmitted in HD, and the network has asked those affiliates to carry it in high definition wherever possible. With CBS beginning to use 16:9 framing for all of their graphics on September 24, 2018, The CW was currently the last major network that continues to use 4:3 framing for all graphics, then begun using 16:9 framing for all of their graphics in August 2020.
CW Seed (originally called CWD or the CW Digital Studio) is a production arm that provides original content created exclusively for digital platforms focused in the areas of animation, game shows, comedy and digital personalities. Previously existing as a section on The CW's main website, CW Seed was spun-off to a separate domain in 2014. Original web series produced by CW Seed includes Stupid Hype, I Ship It, How to Be a Vampire, JoJoHead, Prom Queen, Husbands, the Arrowverse series Vixen and Freedom Fighters: The Ray, and Constantine: City of Demons. In addition, CW Seed hosts various library programming from co-owners CBS and Warner Bros. On January 8, 2020, CW Seed acquired U.S. streaming rights to 14 series from BBC Studios.