The Date: April 24, 2007
The Venue: Grand Hyatt Ballroom, New York
Key Execs: Betty Cohen, president-CEO, Lifetime Networks (who resigned the day after this event); Lynn Picard, president-ad sales; Susanne Daniels, president-entertainment, Lifetime Networks
The Food: Donuts, fruit and bagels to help guests and celebs carb-load for the early-bird presentation and a powerful performance of "Lady Marmalade" by Patti LaBelle and Mya
The Celebs: Upcoming network series stars Kim Delaney, Sterling K. Brown and Catherine Bell ("Army Wives"); Lili Taylor ("State of Mind"); Jason Priestley, Marisa Coughlan, Diana Maria Riva and Christopher Gartin ("Side Order of Life"); British psychic Lisa Williams; "Queer Eye" vet and soon-to-be Lifetime host Carson Kressley ("How to Look Good Naked"); and TV movie staples Jennie Garth ("Girl, Positive") and Lacey Chabert ("What If God Were the Sun?")
The Swag: Lifetime movie alert! Three DVDs of the pilots for this summer's forthcoming dramas "State of Mind," "Army Wives" and "Side Order Of Life" were distributed to all press attendees
The Ratings Game: Lifetime is still a top 10-rated network on ad-supported cable and handily beats core competitors Oxygen and WE, but is losing its footing among adults 18-to-49 to the likes of FX and A&E. However, as this season's string of 4.0-rated-and-higher Nora Roberts-themed films proved, its TV movies are still appointment TV for women.
The Digital Play: Lifetimetv.com will unveil a new look in June with expanded full-length series and movie content and a series of its own, "Lifetime Presents," plus downloadable games with Real Arcade. In fourth quarter, the network goes mobile with its Lifetime Digital WAP application, to be delivered by carriers Sprint, Verizon and Cingular. Its original movies also frequent the top 10 most-purchased charts on iTunes.
The Buyer's Verdict: Jeff Marshall, senior VP-digital managing director, Starcom, thinks the web revamp is a step in the right direction for the network. "Lifetime does a very good job with the topics they tackle with regard to original entertainment. If they're looking to create a community and a dialogue it should be rooted in the content they're known for and what those audiences are passionate about."
After last week's pared-down MTV affair in Times Square, it was nice to see one network keep alive the grand upfront tradition of glam and gratuitous use of celebrity. Lifetime held its programming summit in New York's Grand Hyatt Ballroom yesterday to announce its hearty helping of original shows and movies, having increased its original programming by a network-record 31% for the upcoming season. On hand for the early-morning affair was a cavalcade of celebs who looked far better than we could have hoped to by 7 a.m., including "Queer Eye" alum Carson Kressley, former "Party of Five"-er Lacey Chabert," "JAG" seductress Catherine Bell and a noticeably warm Patti LaBelle, who fanned herself repeatedly during her 7:45 photo shoot with "Lady Marmalade" duet partner Mya.
Part of the aggressive new lineup will include an all-new Sunday comprised of all original series "Army Wives," "Side Order of Life" and "State of Mind," making it the first basic-cable network to anchor a whole prime-time lineup with its own scripted shows. The longtime destination for original movies has no less than 60 on its development slate, including this summer's "What if God Were the Sun?" with Gena Rowlands and Ms. Chabert; "Write & Wrong" with Kirstie Alley and supernatural miniseries "The Gathering" debuting next fall.
The most significant news Lifetime made, however, was the June relaunch of its website, Lifetimetv.com, which will see the network taking an iVillage-esque aim to super-serve its core demo of young women. Dan Suratt, exec VP-digital media and business development, has been working on the site's new look since coming to his post nine months ago, and told Ad Age the relaunch was a "long time coming."
"Lifetime has over 90 million homes and a staggering amount of 18 to 49. But we haven't turned on that switch online; we haven't been ready," he said. Now, the network is amping up its digital offerings with full streaming episodes of its original series and movies on an updated broadband player, in addition to content co-produced with its partners at Hearst magazines (Good Housekeeping, Redbook and Marie Claire). Social-networking content will be emphasized across key lifestyle categories such as health, beauty and style, home and crafts, relationships, entertainment and money, and there will also be three times the amount of original game offerings.
"Seventy-six percent of all our online gamers are women, so it's a huge market for us," Mr. Suratt said. It's also an ideal market for advertisers. "It's a really good opportunity to get the messaging on an environment where you're essentially creating your own IP [address]," he said.
Jeff Marshall, senior VP-digital managing director, Starcom, said taking a newly robust website to market this year is a sign of change from last year's upfront, when broadband was still fresh in a lot of people's minds a blip on many media budgets. "Last year was much more technical. It was, 'Let's make sure we have the ability to deliver content in different forms.' This year it's more about actual content and making sure consumer expectations are met with regard to having the right applications."
In the case of Lifetime specifically, the network was wise to give its web offerings an overhaul since the online market for their audience is so crowded. "The smaller, niche, blog-based sites are actually doing a better job of leveraging the trends of community dialogue and creating the part of the story. The larger brands typically follow very quickly on those trends. But at the end of the day, it has to be rooted around what the brand brings to the table."
The main issue that's stalled all TV networks -- cable or broadcast -- from raking in huge sums of digital dollars is their websites' lack of proven scale, said Jordan Bitterman, VP-media director at Digitas. "We're probably not there yet for the digital offerings to be considered on their own in an upfront kind of way," he said. "What I would say is that the networks certainly have a head start because they're the purveyors of the most compelling video content. It'll be interesting in the next 18 months or so to see who comes out -- not on top, because the game won't be solved by then -- but who really understands their audience."