Turner explores cable network aimed at women

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Time Warner is close to a decision to introduce a women's cable network to compete against Lifetime Television and the planned Oxygen Media channel.

CNN Productions President Pat Mitchell is the lead candidate to run the Turner Broadcasting System's network, according to executives familiar with the discussions. Ms. Mitchell declined comment.

"There are strategic meetings in the next couple of weeks and perhaps we'll have something to announce about it soon," said one Turner insider. Added another Turner executive: "We definitely think there's an opportunity there, and we are looking at it closely."

FIGHTING OXYGEN

Time Warner sees all the publicity Oxygen Media is getting, thanks to the high-profile triumvirate of Geraldine Laybourne, Oprah Winfrey and Marcy Carsey, and believes it can nip the fledgling network in the bud, said yet a third Turner executive.

As a vertically integrated company with both content and cable distribution, Time Warner believes it can launch a quality competitor in the woman's category very efficiently. Turner also has large advertising and affiliate sales teams already assembled.

"We can draw on a vast array of movies and TV shows that we already own, as well as utilize some of our publications," said the second insider. Time Warner's Time Inc. unit publishes People, In Style, Sports Illustrated for Women and Parenting, among other titles.

OTHER CONTENT PROVIDERS

Turner also quietly has been talking to some outside content providers to gauge their interest in the new network, and has promised those executives it would pour significant resources into the venture.

Oxygen has a deal with cable operator Tele-Communications Inc. that guarantees 3 million subscribers when it is launched in January. Time Warner Cable, by comparison, has 12.6 million subscribers.

Oxygen plans first to be a major force on the Web, starting in May. In that arena too, Time Warner is already a major player, with its popular CNN and Warner Bros. Online sites, and could provide extensive resources.

"Just look at the cross-promotional opportunities we can bring to the table for the launch of a women's channel," said the second executive. "If Ted [Turner, Time Warner vice chairman] does this it will be major. Ted doesn't do things half-assed."

Though Lifetime, a joint venture of Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp., is a profitable, well-established channel reaching more than 73 million homes, Turner and Oxygen executives believe it is vulnerable.

"They just got a new CEO [Carole Black] and she'll clearly do things, but we don't think they have the strong brand identity for women as say our CNN has for news," the second executive said.

Last month Turner announced the launch of yet another channel, Turner South. Besides the CNN channels, Turner also operates TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network and Turner Classic Movies.

Copyright March 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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