The Player: Lifetime Networks
The Date: April 14, 2008
The Venue: Le Bernardin, New York
Key Execs: Andrea Wong, president-CEO, Lifetime Networks; Debbie Richman, exec VP-ad sales; Susanne Daniels, president-entertainment; Bob Bibb, co-chief marketing officer; Lew Goldstein, co-chief marketing officer
The Special Guests: Harvey Weinstein, executive producer of new Lifetime acquisition "Project Runway," and the show's co-host, Tim Gunn
The Food: An impeccably prepared three-course lunch, consisting of a flavorful mixed green salad, choice of striped bass or filet mignon as the main course and a tart, textured lemon sorbet to finish things off.
The Drinks: Red and white wine were poured for all guests, but few actually imbibed during the lunch presentation. There was still half of a work day left, after all.
The Swag: To commemorate the network's new re-branding mechanism, a Lifetime-branded airplane, guests received a Pan Am-style baby-blue shoulder bag containing travel-sized containers, a Lifetime stationary pad and a branded pen to match.
Hot on the heels of its much-publicized acquisition of "Project Runway," Lifetime made the first move today with an upfront presentation to members of the press in New York at midtown eatery Le Bernardin. (Bravo will follow suit tomorrow morning at "Top Chef" judge Tom Colicchio's Craft.)
Ms. Wong, Lifetime's CEO, detailed her plans to make Lifetime a broader destination for women's entertainment that goes beyond its signature made-for-TV movies and top-rated new drama, "Army Wives." "Runway" will be the fulcrum of that new positioning.
Mr. Weinstein, who spearheaded the controversial move of "Runway" to Lifetime from Bravo last week and was named in a subsequent lawsuit, addressed concerns about any changes the show might undertake after switching networks.
"The show will be the same, only better," he said. "Lifetime doubled the audience for us. There is incredible potential to grow the show and make it bigger and better."
Indeed, Lifetime's reach of 96 million homes* vs. Bravo's 84 million seemed to be of utmost importance to Mr. Weinstein, who even applauded by himself when Ms. Daniels listed those very statistics. But beyond "Runway," it's clear Lifetime has its sights set on re-creating other elements of the Bravo brand to lure a younger, more influential audience. A companion series to "Runway," "Models of the Runway," (also produced by the Weinstein Company), will launch in November, while "Project Pygmalion" (think "Runway" as a makeover competition) is in development for 2009. Coming this summer, half-hour reality series "How to Look Good Naked," hosted by former Bravo star Carson Kressley, will expand to an hour and will eventually be paired with a stylist competition series called "Total Knockout," billed by Ms. Daniels as "'Top Chef' meets 'What Not to Wear.'"
In other announcements, Ms. Wong unveiled the network's new branding mechanism -- a Lifetime-branded airplane, which will effectively serve as a traveling road show for the network. The plane is not a plane but is actually a pop-up prop that will be used for mall "happenings," outdoor events and a likely Times Square appearance. Co-CMO Mr. Baib said it will help the network create event-marketing opportunities for the network's programming and, eventually, advertising partners, which will then appear on-air in the form of interstitials.
Said Ms. Wong of the plane's significance, "We describe it as a modern-day Kalgon commercial. This is our 'Take me away' moment," Ms. Wong said.
She added that she hopes to make the Lifetime brand "aspirational, energetic, fun and contemporary" and a first stop for female talent. That point was illustrated by its new slate of original movies, top-lined by "Coco Chanel," a biopic starring Shirley MacLaine as the titular fashion icon, and the upcoming "True Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet," starring teen-pop star JoJo and Valerie Bertinelli, in her Lifetime original-movie debut (shocking to think it's her first, no?).
Also coming to the network is Tony Award-winner Christine Ebersole ("Grey Gardens"), who stars in a comedy pilot called "Libertyville" as a middle-aged divorcee and mother of three grappling with balancing single motherhood and her personal life, in true Lifetime fashion. Of similar thematic material is "Rita Rocks," a comedy pilot starring Nicole Sullivan ("Mad TV") as a married mother who decides to rediscover her love of music. Ms. Daniels, the network's entertainment president, said both series will be testing next week and expects at least one to move to series production shortly.
Spearheading the upfront negotiations this year is a familiar face from the agency side, Ms. Richman. Lifetime's new exec VP-ad sales came to the network several weeks ago from Omnicom Group's OMD, where she led the TV- buying group. Ms. Richman said she wants the Lifetime brand to create more partnerships with its ad clients going forward. "We have so many assets that we haven't really taken advantage of. I want to create more long-term partnerships and less one-offs that will make people appreciate us more," she said.
Last Year's Take: Lifetime was down 5.3% in ad revenue in 2007 vs. 2006, earning just more than $800 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence.
The Ratings Game: 2007 was a year of highs and lows for Lifetime. The success of its original movies remains intact, with a series of Nora Roberts adaptations reaching more than 4 million viewers a piece last February. Original series, however, have been trickier territory. Last summer, Lifetime scored the highest-rated original series in its history with "Army Wives," regularly attracting more than 3 million viewers a week. Yet two other attempts to create strong original dramas, "Side Order of Life" and "State of Mind," failed to build significant lead-in audiences and did not receive second-season pickups. In January, the network scored big with its premiere of "How to Look Good Naked," only to see significant drop-off in subsequent episodes. As a result, Lifetime just finished first-quarter 2008 as the ninth-ranked ad-supported cable network in total viewers, with a 13% increase among women aged 18 to 34, flat growth among its core demo of women 18 to 49 and a small decrease with women 25 to 54.
The Digital Play: Lifetimetv.com re-launched in November as MyLifetime.com, complete with a partnership with Glam Media that extended its reach to Glam's audience of 25.5 million unique visits across its 400 sites in October. That pits it squarely against NBC Universal's iVillage, which had a user base of 18.5 million uniques in October for its stand-alone site. Ms. Wong stated her intentions to make Lifetime the leading destination in casual gaming and women's entertainment this year. MyLifetime.com will benefit from inheriting Bravo's rabid online community around "Project Runway" in November.
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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this incorrectly said Lifetime was in 92 million homes.