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May 14, 2008

CW upfront: Dawn Ostroff in 3-D

The CW had a rough year. All the networks had a rough year, but the CW really had a rough year. Yet on Tuesday, the CW had almost an ideal upfront presentation for the year they had.

Like NBC, the CW went for a nontraditional presentation. The network opted to essentially function as the ABC upfront's afterparty, hanging out in a big tent outside its rival's Lincoln Center event like a "Star Wars" fan camped outside a movie theater.

So ABC cut back on its party, while CW cut back on its presentation. Yet for both networks, the moves actually make sense.

Upfront-goers left ABC's event hungry. The CW offered food (an assortment of tasty skewers). They were thirsty; the CW had an open bar. ABC was intentionally light on entertainment, CW rolled out Maroon5 (what ... no Girlicious?).

Then, once everybody was having a fabulous time, CW barricaded the bar and shut down the skewers: If you want to party, first you have to listen to what the network executive has to say.

At first, few did. CW entertainment president Dawn Ostroff took the stage, but the advertising community kept chatting -- hey, you gonna finish that skewer?

After a few awkward minutes, the audience settled down. The CW’s fall series titles were floating on the stage behind Ostroff. Bobbing, waving, breathing. The titles were not standard screen projections, but 3-D. A high-tech hologram display. A gimmick, sure, but one whose novelty made you fixate on the show’s titles in a way you normally would not. This might seem unfair to praise after criticizing the high-tech bombardment of NBC's Experience event, but sometime a solo is more catchy than an orchestra.   

Ostroff showed a clip from a series about rich teenagers (take your pick) then returns to the stage as a projected hologram herself. The image looked real enough for Ostroff to declare that her image is actually a special effect. If the CW upfront was camped out like a "Star Wars" fan, then Dawn Ostroff projected as a hologram was suddenly Princess Leia: “Help me ad buyers, you are our only hope.”

To bring it all together, Ostroff concluded by telling buyers to remember the CW's "3 Ds": demographics, desirable content and the network as a destination. She reminded the audience that CW's "Beverly Hills, 90210" spinoff is the most-buzzed-about show for the fall (the tagline in the trailer: "If you want to live in the ZIP, you gotta live by the code"). She ran through the network's 10-hour fall schedule.

After the event, some snarked about the futility of trying to hold an audience's attention during a party. But the CW's upfront presentation worked. Because of the CW's rough year and the limited changes to its fall schedule, the network only needed to make a few salient points – we're still here, we're targeting young women, we're creating flow across the week, we have a buzz-heavy fall show -- and it made them.


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