Upfront 07

Road to the Upfront: Women's Cable Networks

Lifetime Is Still Camp, but Carriage Deals, Original Programming Boosting Smaller Nets

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Believe it or not, the TV upfront is right around the corner, and Advertising Age is here to help you keep track of the players in both broadcast and cable. This is the first in a weekly series.
Lynn Picard
Lynn Picard

The players: Lifetime still reigns in ratings and carriage, with 91 million homes, while Oxygen and SoapNet have made major carriage gains, with 70 million and 60 million respectively. WE increased its total to 62 million.

Key execs: At Lifetime, President Betty Cohen; VP-Programming and Series Development Julia Gunn; and Lynn Picard, head of ad sales and interactive media. At Oxygen, President Lisa Gersh, Ad-Sales Director Mary Jeanne Cavanaugh and CEO Gerry Laybourne. At WE, Exec VP-General Manager Kim Martin and Rainbow Media President Ed Carroll. At SoapNet, Exec VP Deborah Blackwell and Senior VP Heidi Lobel.

Going to market: The women's nets were quickest on the draw this year. Oxygen threw the first bash Jan. 23, and SoapNet brought out spotlights and ABC daytime stars for its Feb. 15 event.

The ratings game: Lifetime is up 6% in total viewers, with 1.6 million, and its original movies continue to dominate. Its competitors all posted record ratings in 2006, with Oxygen up 15% in prime time to 203,000, SoapNet posting a 0.5 prime-time share and WE drawing 158,000 households (a .27 rating), according to Nielsen Media Research.

The digital play: Lifetime's original movies and shows are available on iTunes, and Oxygen and WE are getting into podcasts. SoapNet's parent, ABC, could get a piece of the streaming-content pie as it continues to attract advertisers.

What to expect: A push toward younger-skewing original programming. Lifetime will look to revive its Sunday-night drama lineup with new shows "Army Lives" and "State of Mind," while Oxygen has hits in "The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency" and "Mo'Nique's Fat Chance," each in its third season. SoapNet this summer will add its first original series, "General Hospital: Nightshift," and WE has a pair of dog-themed reality series coming in April.

Last year's upfront: Lifetime continues to solidify its relationships with major package-goods players, while the smaller networks are closer to gaining the carriage deals and original programming that will appeal to advertisers.

Buyer's verdict: Women's nets bring daytime programming -- and working women -- into prime time. "The opportunity to basically replay those shows on a cable network is helping them catch a new audience," said Rino Scanzoni, Group M chief investment officer. "They've really diversified ... and have a relatively successful endurance in ratings."
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