Women's cable networks

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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.

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.

The ratings game: From 2004 to 2005, Lifetime grew women 18-to-49 8% 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.*

What to expect: A new look from Lifetime as the network tries to age down. It will launch three drama series and a comedy created by Eric McCormack of "Will & Grace." Oxygen's cheeky streak continues with "The Janice Dickinson Project" and a second "Mo'Nique's F.A.T. Chance," a full-figured beauty contest. WE will return with "Bridezillas" and "American Princess," and Soapnet rebroadcasts daytime shows during prime.

Last year's upfront: Fully distributed Lifetime snared low-single digit increases in line with the rest of the cable market. The others 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."

*Nielsen Media Research, prime-time ratings

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