Still, observers say the new network is expected to have a positive long-term impression on advertisers targeting the female demographic.
"If you look at upfront, [Oxygen] will have a rough time until they get more access to cable viewers," says Malcolm Maclachlan, media-e-commerce analyst at research consultancy International Data Corp.
"But if you're looking at the long haul, and talking about selling everything from tires to cosmetics in terms of delivering demographics and audience tracking, Oxygen is going to be a lot more salable once access is taken care of."
Oxygen network, which made its debut in February and serves as a supplement to the company's two-year-old Web portal Oxygen.com is attempting to attract advertisers that remain skeptical since the network's reach extends only to 10 million of the total 65 million cable households.
To offset its limited cable distribution, Oxygen is presenting itself as a prime innovator and "point of convergence" where the Internet and TV intersect with a range of female consumers, says C.J. Kettler, Oxygen's president of sales and marketing.
"One of the things we offer as a brand new network that has two mediums is a way to work very closely with our advertising partners to find the right way to market to our users, combining two different platforms," Ms. Kettler says.
Oxygen has promised its initial sponsors, Hewlett-Packard Co., Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble Co. and RightStart.com, cross-marketing arrangements that promise to blur the lines not only between the Web and TV, but advertising and content.
STRIPE ALONG PROGRAMMING
During program segments and commercials, Oxygen's viewers are alerted by a "stripe," or running bar, that pops up at the bottom of the screen and relates information about a relevant promotion or ad. The stripe features general information about the advertiser, such as its Web site, and also directs viewers to Oxygen's site for more content and services.
"This is the first time a general entertainment channel has kept a network design element running through commercials," Ms. Kettler says.
On Oxygen's Web site, a "partner utility bar" is available to link visitors to partner pages that offer tools, services and discounts for Oxygen's audience.
"The whole way they are displaying their advertising seems innovative," says Mike Bisignano, national media buyer for Horizon Media, New York. But that innovation isn't enough to have him make a buy for one of his clients. He says he's waiting for an increase in the network's viewership.
The attention-grabbing techniques, however, appealed to the network's earliest sponsors. One early sponsor was RightStart.com, the online subsidiary of child development product marketer Right Start, which helped Oxygen achieve total ad commitments of $70 million over the next three years.
FIT FOR RIGHT START
The opportunity to participate in programming provided RightStart.com with "the chance of a lifetime," says Gerald Mitchell, the retailer's exec VP-marketing. RightStart.com is the main sponsor of "Moms Online," a parenting tip TV program spun off from Oxygen's Web site.
"If Ann Ashbey [Moms Online executive producer] calls us and asks if we would like to work on a particular promotion or work on a segment of the program, a decision is made right there, and it happens instantly," says Mr. Mitchell. "Oxygen recognizes that we both want to serve -- superserve, actually -- women. They've figured out the best ways to do that."
But Mr. Maclachlan says that Oxygen's convergence strategies may not be enough to entice some advertisers to overlook its small penetration in the cable market.
The network, which was created by former Nickelodeon powerhouse Geraldine Laybourne and partners such as Oprah Winfrey, is currently in a dozen cities and has reached agreements with cable and digital system operators to double its presence by 2003. The company's goal is to reach 50 million household within five years, which still places it behind its main rival, the similarly women-oriented Lifetime Channel, which is in 75 million homes.
Ms. Kettler says the network is emphasizing the name recognition associated with its programming like "Exhale," a talk show hosted by Candice Bergen, along with shows with a narrow target like "X-Chromosome," billed as the first animated show created specifically for women. Most importantly, programming is integrated with Oxygen's Internet sites, such as the sports enthusiast focus of "We Sweat" and teen-age-centered "Trackers."
By tailoring the programming so acutely to specific demographics of women, advertisers have an easy path to consumers, Ms. Kettler says.
But that road leading to affluent career women in the 18-49 age range "is loaded with potholes," says Howard Nass, an exec VP-director in broadcast at TN Media, New York. The media agency is considering placing client Victoria's Secret on Oxygen.
"Where do these women live in the greatest numbers? Not in Des Moines, Iowa, but in large urban centers like Los Angeles and New York, and Oxygen isn't there yet," Mr. Nass says.
To pull in advertisers during the upfront, Mr. Nass says, Oxygen has to underprice itself relative to established channels, such as Lifetime. Plus, he says the network has to set ratings' guarantees, with a stipulation that covers advertisers should Oxygen's shows not meet the levels agreed on.
For its part, Ms. Kettler says Oxygen is negotiating with Time Warner to get carriage on its cable system, which serves 1.1 million subscribers. With Time Warner's pending merger with America Online, an Oxygen strategic partner, she says the network may ultimately prove that names do help.