Road to the Upfront: Women's Cable Networks

Checking in With TV Networks as They Jockey for Position

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NEW YORK ( -- May's annual TV sales pitch and ad rate negotiations known as the upfront is right around the corner. We're here to help you keep track of the players. This is the first in Advertising Age's weekly series tracking cable and broadcast TV networks as they begin to lay out their positions. First up is a look at the cable networks catering to women.

Betty Cohen is the new president at Lifetime, the category giant.
Photo: Lucas Jackson

The players: Lifetime is the category giant, back in 89 million homes now that the ink is dry on its new Dish Network carriage contract. Oxygen used Lifetime's January dispute with Dish to gain coverage in 8 million homes, bringing its total to 68 million viewers. WE: Women's Entertainment has 57 million viewers and ABC's Soapnet is a factor with 47.1 million homes -- and the backing of ABC's sales force.

Key execs: Lifetime has a new president in Betty Cohen and programming head in WB vet Suzanne Daniels; Lynn Picard heads ad sales and interactive media. Lisa Gersh is chief operating officer and head of ad sales at Gerry Laybourne's Oxygen, WE has a new network head in Kim Martin, and Soapnet now has a dedicated sales team under Heidi Lobel, exec VP-sales for ABC daytime.

Going to market: Soapnet hosted an "in front of the upfront" party two weeks ago at New York club Pacha. Lifetime will host a breakfast presentation March 21 and Oxygen and WE are taking their presentations on a road show.

The ratings game: From 2004-05, Lifetime grew 8% in women 18-to-49, to 580,000 viewers. In the same time period and demo, Soapnet was up 12% to 127,000, Oxygen was up 32% to 79,000 and WE was up 9% to 47,000 (all prime-time ratings according to Nielsen Media Research).

What to expect: A new look from Lifetime as the network tries to age itself down with more "multi-generational programming." It axed the long-running "Strong Medicine" but will debut three new drama series and a new comedy, "LoveSpring," created by Erik McCormick of "Will & Grace" fame. Oxygen's cheeky streak continues with "The Janice Dickinson Project" and the second season of "Mo'Nique's F.A.T. Chance," a full-figured beauty competition with video blogs from the namesake star. WE will return with "Bridezillas" and "American Princess" and Soapnet rebroadcast's top daytime shows during prime time, plus the original "Soap Talk" with Lisa Rinna.

Last year's upfront: Fully distributed Lifetime snared low single-digit increases in line with the rest of the cable market. The other nets owe their double-digit volume increases largely to better distribution and ratings.

Buyer's verdict: Women's nets benefit by selling less waste. "They're pure female," said Gary Carr, senior VP-director of broadcast, TargetCast, New York. "Lifetime's the big dog but their programming skews Middle American, more downscale." The others are easy to buy and inexpensive but to make them a must buy they need to find that one hit program, Mr. Carr said, much like Bravo found "Queer Eye."

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