Since March 1999, Carole Black has taken Lifetime from sixth place to become the top-rated network in prime time and total day, edging out USA Network. Lifetime, a 50/50 joint venture of Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp., debuted in 1984 and currently has a record-setting streak of 30 consecutive monthly ratings gains through February. The network serves 84 million households.
Lifetime's president-CEO started her career in brand management with Procter & Gamble Co. and also was a senior VP at Disney. "Everything starts with content, which has to be just right for the network," Ms. Black says. "We've found that when we invite women to watch one or two shows like our Sunday night lineup, we turn them on to other shows."
Much of Lifetime's success can be attributed to its original movies and the dominance of its Sunday night lineup. "Strong Medicine," a show about female doctors, finished 2001 with an average 2.5 rating, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Although Lifetime and other niche networks posted large year-to-year increases in household prime-time ratings for 2001, the increases didn't mean much more in ad dollars, media buyers say. Most viewers were either too narrowly defined or out of the desired 18-to-49 demographic. Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR says Lifetime's 2001 ad revenue was $648.2 million, up 13.8% from 2000.
Ms. Black hammers home a branding message. She's extended Lifetime's advocacy initiatives as well as its programming. Outreach efforts include "Stop Breast Cancer for Life"; "Be Your Own Hero," focusing on increasing women's and girls' self-esteem; and a new effort to stop violence against women.
Lifetime's strategy for audience growth and brand extension is reflected in Ms. Black's expansion of the Lifetime Movie Network, a digital sibling service that in four years has grown to more than 22 million homes, and in its enhanced Web site, Lifetimetv.com, says Howard Horowitz, president of researcher Horowitz Associates in New York. In addition, Lifetime launched a new network, Lifetime Real Women, last August.