NEW YORK (AP) — For the past three weeks, the upstart My Network TV has accomplished something that would have been considered unthinkable just two years ago.
The network, quickly cobbled together by a group of Fox-owned local stations after the 2006 merger of the WB and UPN into the new CW left abandoned stations with nothing to put on the air, has averaged more prime-time viewers than the CW.
My Network TV is the only one of the six English-speaking broadcast networks to grow this season. Its average of 1.76 million viewers each night is up 750,000 from last season, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Given an opportunity to gloat, My Network TV President Greg Meidel plays it cool.
"Do we get excited about beating the CW three weeks in a row? Sure," said Meidel. "I'd rather win than have a tie."
Professional wrestling is the turnaround's chief driver. The CW used to air World Wrestling Entertainment matches, but let them go because wrestling clashed with its strategy of appealing primarily to the young women who obsess over "Gossip Girl." My Network picked it up and the Friday night package is the network's most popular program of the week.
Even discounting the wrestling, My Network TV is up. Its executives abandoned the network's initial programming strategy — prime-time, English-language telenovelas — in favor of movies and nonfiction programming.
"We want to provide programming that's entertaining, that's fun to watch and easy to join in progress," Meidel said.
Make no mistake, My Network would like you to set aside time for its shows. But that's tough for a new network, so it favors material like "Jail," a series from the producer of "COPS" that follows a person in the first few days of incarceration, and "The World's Funniest Moments," a collection of YouTube-like videos hosted by Arsenio Hall. They're designed to catch the eye of someone idly surfing through the channels.
For that reason, My Network TV has avoided dating games or competition shows that stretch over several episodes, fearing viewers won't make the commitment, Meidel said.
The network also happened upon a new niche of shows related to magic. Its "Breaking the Magicians Code" has done well, and will soon be joined by "Masters of Illusion," where tricks presumably not outed by the previous show are performed.
The network has movie nights, and a week ago tied for its biggest audience ever with the holiday evergreen "Home Alone."
My Network TV's success shows that with all the new media, there's still power in traditional broadcast television distribution, said John Rash, an analyst for the ad buying firm Campbell Mithun. My Network is shown on 10 Fox-owned stations and has 170 affiliates.
Unlike the CW, My Network doesn't really have a clear identity for viewers, Rash said. But that could be an opportunity.
"They have the ability to redefine the network and build from their surprising success relative to the lack of a clear consumer definition," he said.
The CW partly blames its defeats of the past few weeks on a schedule filled with reruns. Its executives wouldn't talk publicly, but they believe their approach of making some high-quality scripted shows appealing to a certain audience will ultimately pay off.
"The CW has a sound strategy," Rash said. "It needs more applicable programming."
Appealing to a niche is one approach, but Meidel said he believes there's still money to be made in going after a broader audience.
"Our goal as a team is to create real value for our affiliates," he said.
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