When Mark Pedowitz became president of the CW television network nine years ago, no one was sure how long he — or the network — would last.
The CW’s owners were unhappy that the network focused too narrowly on teenage girls. Pedowitz, a veteran TV studio executive, recognized the network needed to broaden its focus to attract larger audiences.
He joined just as Netflix began writing huge checks for the rights to stream the broadcaster’s young-adult programming, including “Supernatural” and “The Vampire Diaries,” after their initial television runs.
On Friday, the CW announced that Pedowitz had signed a new multiyear deal, which will keep him at the network well beyond his 10th anniversary (his previous deal, signed in 2016, was due to expire later this year). He also was elevated to chairman and chief executive officer, overseeing all creative and business aspects of the 14-year-old network.
The move came just three days after the CW announced that it had given early pickups for all 13 of its scripted series for the 2020-21 season. The decision was designed to allow producers to staff up their writing rooms — and assure viewers that the shows they were sampling would be around for at least another season.
“The CW is thriving,” Pedowitz said. “The owners believe in us and feel that the CW has a place in this complicated world. We are going to be here for a while.”
But challenges remain. Last year, the corporate owners of the CW — CBS Corp. and Warner Bros. Entertainment — yanked its shows from Netflix as part of an industry retrenchment. They wanted the CW shows to help stock their own budding streaming services. The CW has become an important platform for the CBS and Warner Bros. studios.
Since Pedowitz arrived in 2011, the CW has doubled its slate to 18 scripted series from nine. Many of its programs have wended their way into pop culture, including “Jane the Virgin,” “Supergirl,” “Riverdale” and, most recently, “Nancy Drew.”
The CW’s owners now are part of larger companies. Warner Bros. studio in Burbank is a division of WarnerMedia, which is owned by AT&T and is launching its new streaming service HBO Max this year. And just last month, CBS was folded into Viacom, creating a new entity, ViacomCBS. The latter company is busy crafting a strategy to boost its digital profile.
Both companies have an increased appetite for programming, so they appear willing to absorb the CW’s operating losses. (The network’s programming generated substantial revenue for the studios until the Netflix deal ended.) The CW declined to provide details on its finances, other than to say the platform ultimately pays off for its owners by creating long-term value for their separate studios’ shows.
In recent months, at a time when traditional television audiences are declining, Pedowitz has reaffirmed the CW’s streaming strategy, which is to offer its programs for free on its own ad-supported digital platforms. He secured digital rights to all new CW scripted series so that viewers will be able to watch entire seasons on the company’s website or the CW app.
“We are complementary to all of these SVOD [subscription video-on-demand] plays,” Pedowitz said, noting that the CW isn’t big enough to be viable as a stand-alone subscription service like Netflix or Disney+.
“When I joined, I was gifted with a great team and we took a hard look at who we were,” he said. “We recognized what our weaknesses were, and we flipped them into strengths.”