The CW is continuing to slash budgets, transforming the network in fundamental ways that are likely to continue to frustrate fans of DC’s Arrowverse. Just as DC Studios co-CEO James Gunn was taking to social media this weekend to let DC’s Legends of Tomorrow fans know that he sees them, some behind-the-scenes analysis at Puck broke down the ways that Nexstar is bad for the 18-34-year-old genre TV fans who have made up the intended audience for The CW in the years since Smallville and Supernatural made that the network’s whole brand.
Linear TV ratings have taken an absolute pummeling at The CW in the time since Nexstar’s acquisition was first announced, likely not helped by Arrowverse fans who have not tuned in for Stargirl now that the numerous other DC shows on the network are either gone, or on the way out. But linear TV ratings are all the network cares about now, and for a reason that we have touched on a number of times before.
The CW has been operating at a deficit for years. Its relatively small overall audience doesn’t bring in CBS or Fox levels of advertiser revenue, and linear TV across the board is way down as more and more audience members either watch on a time-delay with no ads, or wait until a show pops up on streaming to binge it completely on their own time. That deficit has been accepted by the network’s former owners — Paramount and Warner Bros. — because of the other benefits that The CW provided.
As one of the pre-eminent spaces for genre TV in North America, The CW offered a development ground for shows that would draw in small but incredibly loyal audiences. These shows could then be exploited in other ways, whether it’s merchandising or a lucrative streaming deal, which meant that even if The CW itself wasn’t profitable, WB and Paramount were generating a profit off the revenue created by the shows. More recently, those lucrative streaming deals were being skipped in favor of using The CW to provide content to HBO Max and Paramount+ at virtually no cost to the parent companies’ in-house streaming platforms.
Either way, superhero and other genre shows aren’t cheap — even at The CW’s level. And Nexstar doesn’t own any streaming service it wants to fill will content; instead, they want to take the aging audience who watches linear TV, and figure out how to cater directly to those people so they don’t find a way to skip the ads.
“So no, the new CW will soon not be airing all those Greg Berlanti-produced Y.A. shows or DC Comics adaptations, which can now run $4 million to $5 million an episode,” Puck’s analysis concludes. “In fact, many insiders expect the CW to be in need of its own coroner, killing off most if not all of the pricer stuff after this season.”
(The “coroner” joke is a reference to The Coroners, a foreign series The CW licenses for broadcast so that they can have new-to-the-US programming without spending money on a true original.)
So, yeah. Stargirl and The Flash are over after this season, and that breakdown doesn’t sound promising for the future of Superman & Lois. The overall feeling that the network is a sinking ship seems to have really hurt viewership even further, with All American and Walker seeing steep drops in their viewership numbers this season. Those shows, along with Superman & Lois, were some of the network’s biggest hits in the last couple of years, so it’s likely that the long-awaited third season of Superman & Lois will meet with similar audience indifference, regardless of its quality.