Pasadena, CA -- The CW's day at the Winter 2013 Television Critics Association tour on Sunday was modest, to say the least, with only three panels that morning. But they nevertheless made for a productive and impressionable few hours. The day began with a session with CW President Mark Pedowitz, which marked the first time the network has included a press conference with its top executive at a Winter Television Critics Association tour since 2007. It was followed by a panel for the "Sex and the City" prequel "The Carrie Diaries" – one of the best new series of the 2012-13 season – and one for "Cult," a disturbing psycho-drama about a killer who dangerously influences young viewers of a television program via a show-within-a-show that is potentially controversial in light of recent tragedies involving mentally unstable young people and subsequent concerns about media content.
Accurate audience measurement for the young demographic group The CW targets was a particularly vital topic during Pedowitz's session. "What we're seeing in tracking the 18-34s, which Nielsen has a little bit of difficulty tracking these days, [is] a tremendous up- tick in our initiated streams, which means CWTV.com and Hulu," Pedowitz said. "We're up twice the amount. Twenty percent of [our] total viewing audience over the course of time is coming from online and streaming and VOD. So we look at everything as one piece, not just overnight viewing."
Are there changes Nielsen needs to make that will adequately reflect where young viewers are, since they aren't necessarily watching traditional television, one critic asked?
"Nielsen needs to technologically catch up," Pedowitz declared. "I think they're giving it a try. Their people are hard working. I think they just missed the boat in 18-34. They're just not capturing them. Most of the people that you talk to in the 18-34 demo, particularly if they're college age, they do not have TVs. They watch via their laptop or via their tablet or their mobile [device]. Nielsen has not yet been able to successfully [measure them], though they're trying with their online campaign ratings, to capture that and make it part of [the] overall number [we] give to the advertisers. Hopefully they will catch up. Hopefully they will increase the size of the sample, and hopefully they'll find them. But it's been very difficult."
What about if Hulu, for example, was required to record a certain amount of viewing data, the critic continued. Wouldn't that help the situation?
"At this moment in time, Nielsen can't track them," Pedowitz repeated. "So it's just not an issue whether Hulu reports them or CWTV.com reports them. They just cannot track them."
Still, the network isn't letting audience measurement challenges get in the way of maximizing its business model. The CW has been able to "monetize our online viewing in ways very different than anyone else," Pedowitz explained. "We run a full ad load with the fast-forward disabled. We do not run the same commercials that appear on C3, because Nielsen can't measure them. So we put a whole new group of commercials into those streaming shows. We're paid and compensated in that respect.
"You're able to tell what the P2+ impressions are because you can see what's coming through the IP addresses," he continued. "We know when we serve the amount of impressions that have been guaranteed to advertisers."
Reminded by another critic that executives at other networks have noted that the median age of the CW audience is 41, well above its 18-34 target, Pedowitz replied, "Our adult 18-34 fourth quarter-to-fourth quarter [numbers] were flat. Our 18-49 [numbers] were flat. We grew our total viewers by 10 percent. Part of the reason the audience aged somewhat was we did not expect that [failed freshman drama] 'Emily Owens, MD' would skew as old as it did."
Compounding the situation, he continued, is the challenge of tracking the substantial young audience that has come to the new super-hero hit "Arrow." In terms of online viewing, the network knows "Arrow" is doing quite well. "I've had conversations with Xbox, which is an 18-34 medium, [and] 'Arrow' is one of their No. 1 shows," Pedowitz said. "So we know the 18-34s are watching. Traditional media has tended to be a little bit skewed, a little bit older."
The CW did an excellent job of positioning the two new series it introduced after Pedowitz's session. It distributed copies of Sunday's New York Times with a faux cover dated January 13, 1984, at the start of the panel for "The Carrie Diaries" (which is set in that year), along with DVD screeners of the first three episodes packaged in a sleeve for a "single" or "45" record. (The impact of the latter may not have been as strong as desired, because many of the younger critics in the room had never seen a "45." Similarly, there was a can of Tab soda placed at each seat, prompting many of the young ones to ask if it was a new product.)
Promotion at the tour for the creepy "Cult" was far more subtle. Strange messages targeting individual critics were inserted into closed-circuit programming in the critics' rooms. In terms of marketing and promotion, "Cult" is going to be a challenge for The CW, as became clear during the session for the show, when critics expressed difficulty in understanding exactly what it is about.
"I watched the pilot," one critic said during the "Cult" panel. "What's going on?"
Not even executive producers Rockne S. O'Bannon and Len Goldstein, who were clearly very passionate about the show, could provide clear, concise answers.
"What was interesting to me was to attempt to create a show that was truly unique [and] truly different," O'Bannon said. "And doing so, yeah, it can make it a little harder to explain and describe. I have a great deal of faith and trust in the audience to be able to hook into that. But we're very aware of the fact that we have a complex, multifaceted show going on and we're trying to keep it as clear in our heads as possible."