NBC Universal Cablers Make Their Pitch to Women

Road to the Upfront: Bravo and Oxygen

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The Players: Bravo and Oxygen
The Date: April 14-15, 2009
The Venue: Russian Tea Room, New York (Bravo); Arena, New York (Oxygen)
Key Execs: Lauren Zalaznick, president of NBC Universal's women's-lifestyle networks; Susan Malfa, senior VP-ad sales, Bravo and Oxygen; Frances Berwick, general manager, Bravo; Lisa Hsia, senior VP-digital media, Bravo; Jason Klarman, general manager, Oxygen; Amy Introcaso-Davis, senior VP-programming and development, Oxygen

Danielle Staub from 'Real Housewives of New Jersey' and Lauren Zalaznick, president of NBC Universal's women's-lifestyle networks at the Upfront Press Breakfast Event.
Danielle Staub from 'Real Housewives of New Jersey' and Lauren Zalaznick, president of NBC Universal's women's-lifestyle networks at the Upfront Press Breakfast Event. Credit: NBC
The Special Guests: Bravo hosted the cast of "The Real Housewives of New Jersey," the fourth installment of its hit "Real Housewives" franchise that premieres May 12. Oxygen welcomed "Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood" stars Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott, as well as Marissa Jaret Winokur, host of new fitness competition "Dance Your Ass Off."
The Food: At Bravo, a bountiful breakfast buffet with enough waffles, meats and fresh-baked scones for attendees to "watch what happens" ... to their waistlines. At Oxygen, a three-course lunch composed of a colorful mixed-green salad, choice of butternut-squash ravioli or grilled chicken, and a strawberry-covered chocolate cake, for attendees to "live out loud" ... with their appetites.

The Swag: A Bravo-branded pen/jump drive, for the on-the-go "affluencer"; a copy of "Downtown Chic" from Robert and Courtney Novogratz, stars of the upcoming reality series "Design Sixx"; and a "Top Chef" cooking jacket. Oxygen upped the ante with an autographed copy of "Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood" star Tori Spelling's new book, "Mommywood"; a two-week free pass to Crunch gym; and a "bedazzled" necklace/jump drive for "Generation O."

Last Year's Take: Bravo grossed $167 million in measured ad spending in 2008, while Oxygen grew ad revenue 12% to $153.9 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

The Ratings Game: Bravo is continuing on its path as the Little Network That Could, cracking the list of top 20 networks for adults 18 to 49 in prime time during the first of quarter 2009. Driven by "Top Chef," the "Real Housewives" franchise and the now-departed "Project Runway," the network has posted 14 consecutive quarters of ratings growth against the demo. Oxygen is also emerging as a small but growing player, ranked No. 27 among the highest-rated cable networks for adults 18 to 49, gaining momentum on the strength of shows such as "The Bad Girls Club," "Tori & Dean" and newly acquired reruns of "America's Next Top Model."

The Buyer's Take: Jordan Breslow, director of broadcast research at WPP's Group M, said strong branding has helped the NBC Universal networks stand out in a crowded cable landscape, particularly in Bravo's case. "For a while I don't think people were really certain as to what Bravo was," he said. "They seem to be finding a place for themselves now. They certainly had enough reality success for people to come to them. Between 'Real Housewives' and 'Top Chef' and 'Millionaire Matchmaker,' they certainly have enough programming that speaks to that brand." Oxygen still faces an uphill battle to get prioritized among numerous other female-targeted networks, but is beginning to reap the benefits of being attached to NBCU's other women's-lifestyle brands. "It can only help, being part of a larger family," Mr. Breslow said. "It's much tougher being an independent."

The Pitch: How do you capitalize on two of the fastest-growing networks on cable? Combine them, of course.

That's part of the strategy that's anchoring the ongoing ratings success stories of Bravo and Oxygen, two of the anchor brands of Women@NBCU, a lifestyle-marketing group that also includes iVillage, "Today" and the company's "Green Is Universal" unit. In the past year, all the Women@NBCU properties have been combined under the oversight of Lauren Zalaznick, with Susan Malfa leading the ad sales for Bravo and Oxygen and former Univision Chief Marketing Officer Maryam Banikarim recently recruited as the group's senior VP-integrated sales marketing. This Friday will mark the first meeting of Women@NBCU's all-star panel of female executives, including NBC personalities such as Meredith Vieira of "Today" and CNBC's Maria Bartiromo; marketers such as Lisa Caputo, Citigroup's exec VP-global marketing and corporate affairs; and agency executives such as Starcom Entertainment's Laura Carracioli-Davis.

At Oxygen's upfront presentation to the press today, Ms. Zalaznick explained why the NBCU women's portfolio has become less focused on selling advertisers on demographics. "We want to make it clear to the ad-sales marketplace that while the 30-second-spot model is going to keep us in business for many years to come, this modeling has everything to do with where these women are in their lives. There's nothing more to put to bed about what's the difference between Bravo and Oxygen. Now we really want to break ground in terms of innovation of ad sales [across all our properties]."

Kodak recently became one of the first advertisers to buy into Women@NBCU's cross-platform sales pitch, with customized vignettes for the marketer's new ink-jet color printer rolling out across Oxygen, Bravo, "Today" and iVillage during the next several weeks. Ms. Zalaznick confirmed General Mills as another sponsor expected to launch an integrated campaign later in the second quarter.

With a broader focus on adults 18 to 49, Bravo continued to achieve ratings growth in its two most recent quarters, and added 97 new advertisers to its client roster in 2008, Ms. Malfa said. Oxygen, meanwhile, grew its portfolio by more than 100 new advertisers in 2008, with an additional 25 signed up in the first of quarter 2009, evidence that the Bravo-brand halo effect has been a big boon to the network's bottom line.

"Each brand has value and success by itself, but they become more powerful to an advertiser when combined," Ms. Malfa said.

On the programming front, Bravo continues to invest in fashion-oriented shows, particularly after its official loss of "Project Runway" to Lifetime two weeks ago. "The Fashion Show," a "Runway"-esque designer-competition series hosted by Isaac Mizrahi and Kelly Rowland premiering May 7, is particularly reminiscent of its predecessor, right down to the sponsorship model, with Harper's Bazaar filling in for Elle as the editorial partner and Tresemme resuming its "Runway" duties as the show's integrated hair-care sponsor.

"The Fashion Show" will also usher in a host of similar competition series, including the tentatively "American Artist," from producer Sarah Jessica Parker, and "Launch My Line," in which established designers team up with celebrities to compete for a nationally distributed collection. Foodie franchise "Top Chef" will debut a spin-off, "Top Chef Masters," on June 10, with a docu-series, "Chef Academy," planned as a profile of The New York Times' "world's sexiest chef," Jean-Christophe Novelli.

Oxygen, meanwhile, is building on the buzz of "The Bad Girls Club," its highest-rated series to date, by developing more reality shows with an edge. Up first is "Dance Your Ass Off," a "Dancing With the Stars"-style competition with a focus on fitness, complete with an integrated-marketing tie-in for Crunch gyms. Also in the works are "Addicted to Beauty," a humorous take on Botox-obsessed spa culture; "The Naughty Kitchen with Chef Blythe Beck," a brash profile of the titular Texas cook; and "Celeb-U-Moms," a docu-series profiling on-the-go Hollywood moms.

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