|Betty Cohen, who becomes CEO of Lifetime Television this month, was the founder of Cartoon Network.
“People used to be dismissive of cartoons -- they’re just kids’ stuff, only for Saturday morning,” said Ms. Cohen, who starts her new job April 24. “What my team and I did was develop it into an art form, where it was cool to like cartoons at any age. I feel there’s a real opportunity for me at Lifetime to make programming for women the hot thing.”
Ms. Cohen, who spent the last two-and-a-half years heading her own branding and consulting firm, said she was “about to put together an independent production entity when Anne [Sweeney, president of Disney-ABC Television Group] called. ... I think Anne caught me at a moment where I had realized this really is what I wanted to be doing.”
Ms. Cohen's appointment last week was widely considered a surprise, as much of the industry speculated that the top job at Lifetime, which is jointly owned by Hearst and Walt Disney Co., focused on a handful of candidates from within the Disney family. Soapnet head Deborah Blackwell; Lifetime’s head of sales, Lynn Picard; and Lifetime’s executive vice president and general manager, Rick Haskins were all considered front-runners for the top post.
Ms. Cohen said she will spend her first several months at the network “in an immersion learning curve” before making any strategic decisions. “TV will change a lot with new technologies, but it’s still a major force,” she said. “All roads lead back to fully distributed networks, and my sense is there’s real opportunity for an important mix of traditional TV along with some of these new technologies.”
She acknowledged that Lifetime presents a new kind of audience than the more targeted audience of a Cartoon Network (children) or an AMC (movie lovers).
“We’ll look at who are we getting, who else we could be getting,” she said. “The advertising world is starting to look at psychographics as well as demographics when trying to get their brands to audiences.”
She also said she hopes to bring another Cartoon Network lesson with her.
“At Cartoon Network there was nothing more mainstream or mass than Scooby Doo,” she said. “But we worked to develop more interesting and provocative programming -- we learned how to straddle mainstream with sort of cutting edge. And Lifetime is kind of like that as one of the highest rating networks. There ought to be a way of introducing new kinds and forms of programming for women and still have the brand and feeling be consistent. You don’t want to walk away from the things that bring big audience, but there are things we want to do to take things to the next level.”
Additionally, she said that one of her passions lies in developing branded content, an area in which Lifetime has dabbled through its original movies. Last summer it signed a multiyear partnership with Perfectmatch.com, which led to this past winter’s debut of the brand-integrated original movie Perfect Match, along with sponsored online content and a sweepstakes promotion.
Season to date, Lifetime is the No. 4-rated cable network, averaging a 1.3 rating and 1.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. A rating is a percentage of all TV households, whether or not their sets are turned on. (For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. households with TV.)