A few weeks ago, a report suggested that the future of the broadcast network The CW was in flux. The owners are considering divesting from the network, and a few interested parties have come forward. But the big question is what will the network look like after the current owners, who are also major content providers for the network, leave?
The network's history
It's hard to believe that The CW as we know it today was created 16 years ago. The network was born when the former UPN and WB merged into a single network, bringing together two major media companies: CBS and Warner Bros. The letters of the network name represent the two parent companies. In the years since the creation of the network, however, there have been big changes in the industry, many of which have affected the CW.
First, CBS no longer exists as it did in 2006. After its merger with Viacom, the company has a different name (ViacomCBS) and a renewed focus, particularly on streaming content through Paramount+. Second, Warner Bros. doesn't look like it did in 2006. The company has gone through a series of mergers and acquisitions, followed by divestments, leaving it as WarnerMedia and representing the media arm of AT&T. In the coming months, the brand is expected to become part of Discovery in another shift of ownership. With DirecTV no longer part of the family, WarnerMedia has focused on its own streaming goals through HBO Max.
The next steps
With both ViacomCBS and WarnerMedia focused on their individual streaming efforts, CW is likely on the auction block. While several contenders have emerged showing interest in the brand, the leading option appears to be Nexstar Media Group Inc. If you've not heard of the company, that's okay - you have likely watched their stations. The company owns 199 local affiliates across the country, including our NBC affiliate in Tampa.
So, why would Nexstar want to purchase The CW? Well, they currently own the network affiliates for The CW in Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington DC. They have been on a bit of a buying binge, looking to have more control over the ecosystems in which they operate, as opposed to being just the local operators.
What would the new network look like?
Nexstar's purchase of WGN ended in a complete format change, becoming News Nation. A purchase of The CW could potentially see another massive change, but for different reasons. With The CW, most of the biggest draws come from the DC Comics catalog, which is owned by WarnerMedia. The company has begun to launch new shows within the DC catalog on its own HBO Max streaming service, as opposed to The CW. A sale of the network could potentially not include the DC programming, leaving The CW with a lot less original programming - the exact situation UPN and The WB were in.
It's unlikely that Nexstar would create another news network, but it's not out of the question. The company owns several news outlets, including News Nation and The Hill. They could also create a broadcast syndication network, copying a successful cable model. The difference, of course, is that broadcast television has a different cost structure than cable, as FCC licenses cost - though they could use their News Nation infrastructure to eliminate that cost.
Everything is still up in the air, and no decisions have been made. We will have to wait to see what WarnerMedia, ViacomCBS, and the final buyer can negotiate before we will have any idea what the future of The CW, as well as its biggest hits, like The Flash, will look like.