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CW Networks erodes viewers in first year under Nexstar ownership

The fifth-largest broadcast network saw its audience drop 21 percent in 2023 compared to the previous year.

The fifth-largest broadcast network saw its audience drop 21 percent in 2023 compared to the previous year.

The CW Network saw its audience erode by double-digit percentage points in 2023, its first full year of operation under Nexstar Media Group, according to Nielsen ratings reviewed by The Desk.

The network saw an average of 453,000 people tune in to watch prime-time shows, movies and a handful of live sports broadcasts, according to Nielsen ratings, amounting to a year-over audience loss of 21 percent and earning the CW Network last place among the five largest broadcast networks.

The viewership figure suggests the CW Network’s strategy of revamping its prime-time line-up with Canadian imports like “Son of a Critch” and “Children Ruin Everything” did not resonate much with viewers (multiple seasons of both shows were previously available to stream for free on the Roku Channel). It also indicates the CW Network’s inclusion of some sports programming, like LIV Golf and Atlantic Coast Conference football games did little to help lift the station’s audience count.

Nexstar acquired a 75 percent stake in the CW Network in August 2022, with Paramount Global and Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) each retaining 12.5 percent of the business. Shortly after Nexstar closed on the deal, Paramount announced it was pulling CW Network programming from eight of its owned-and-operated stations, forcing viewers in areas like San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Sacramento to switch stations.

In nearly all affected areas, Nexstar moved the CW Network to one of its own stations, or inked affiliation agreements with rival broadcasters like Hearst Television and Sinclair Broadcast Group, who agreed to distribute CW Network programming on their outlets. In Detroit, an arrangement involving Nexstar-controlled Mission Broadcasting and family-owned Adell Broadcasting to acquire WADL (Channel 38) and move the CW Network affiliation to that station went sideways in November, with the CW Network ultimately moving to a station owned by E. W. Scripps Company. (The purchase of WADL by Mission continues to be held up at the Federal Communications Commission, and has faced opposition from some television industry groups.)

Of the five major broadcast networks, the CW Network has the largest year-over percentage drop in audience, according to Nielsen ratings reviewed by The Desk. The Fox Network had the largest year-over audience increase, rising 4 percent to end the year with an average of 3.353 million viewers.

The following is a breakdown of year-end average viewership figures based on Nielsen data for 2023:

  • NBC: 4.537 million (-12%)
  • CBS: 4.508 million (-12%)
  • ABC: 3.888 million (+1%)
  • Fox: 3.353 million (+4%)
  • Univision: 1.265 million (-4%)
  • Ion: 997,000 (-3%)
  • CW Network: 453,000 (-21%)

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).