Inside The CW’s digital studio

The CW, the youth-skewing broadcast network devoted to teen soaps and superhero shows, treats its digital studio as a companion to its linear TV business.

Three-year-old CW Seed originally created content for CWTV.com. Today, CW Seed has its own home at CWSeed.com and on apps for iOS and Android devices. By the end of the year, it’ll also be available on an array of streaming TV platforms including Apple TV, Roku, Xbox and Google Chromecast.

All of this has been part of a larger effort to build CW Seed into a standalone digital network — albeit one that still complements the broadcast network, according to CW’s evp of marketing and digital programs Rick Haskins.

“We were seeing a lot of people migrating to digital, we thought it would be an opportunity to put a flag in that area,” said Haskins. “But it really has become an incubator for us, which was the initial charge.”

Currently, CW Seed is home to nearly a dozen original Web series. In a few cases, series under development or released by Seed have migrated over to the broadcast network, including “Backpackers” and “Significant Mother.”

While not all CW Seed projects are developed with an eye toward turning them into TV shows, the studio enables the network to experiment with content and work with emerging talent while facing minimal risk.

What it also lets the network do is flex some of its creative muscles, according to Haskins. “We don’t have the constraints of 22 or 44 minutes,” said Haskins. “We can stretch our wings and do something as crazy as a vampire musical.”

Here, again, it’s in full support of the TV product. That vampire musical will be a take-off on one of CW’s TV series, “The Vampire Diaries.” Another Web series, called “Vixen,” is an animated companion to CW’s hit superhero shows “Arrow” and “The Flash.”

By building digital companions to existing TV series, CW is able to satisfy fans of the shows by offering them something new and different — but it’s also an attempt to break through the noise in Web video. These shows have a built-in audience that Seed can market to. “Arrow” and “The Flash,” for instance, averaged more than six million live-TV viewers last season and have more than 11 million Facebook likes combined. CW has been using both platforms, among others, to drive people to “Vixen,” which is currently in the middle of its six-episode run.

In this way, CW Seed is a notable departure from how most other TV networks approach digital. Some like HBO and Showtime are loosening the cord by launching streaming apps, others like Fusion and MTV are focusing more on creating social content. CW’s goal for Seed is to be a full-fledged network, except available only on digital platforms.

As the brand grows, CW will continue to seek out new ways to “migrate audiences back and forth,” said Haskins.

But the linear network will still take the lead.

Years from now, Haskins would like CW Seed to become the network’s “unique” take on streaming video. “It would still complement the TV network, which would always drive the business,” he said. “But it would be unique unto itself — who knows we may start doing 22-minute comedies instead of 3-minute comedies.”

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