Cable seeks spot in frenetic lifestyle

Toddler sleeping? Sponsored VOD offerings await bidding of time-shifting, stressed moms

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Lifetime, oxygen and we tv have adopted new taglines and marketing tactics in the last year, but the keys to the women's kingdom may not lie with those linear networks.

In fact, what defines the next generation of success for programmers that target females likely will be how well they do in reaching women on demand.

"Women are everywhere-particularly young women-and that's where our programming needs to be," says Debby Beece, president-programming and marketing at Oxygen, one of a handful of cable networks, along with Lifetime, WE TV and SoapNet, that program to women.

While new taglines and branding campaigns can help a network stay fresh to get viewers' attention, networks reaching women need to give them more choices, says Ray Solley, cable programming consultant with Solley Group, Redondo Beach, Calif.

"They want more choice in programming and how they are going to view it, when they are going to view it," Mr. Solley says. Networks that serve women need to find more ways to distribute their brands so their viewers can shoehorn in TV time, be it traditional viewing, on-demand, online or mobile.

sold out VOD

Lifetime, for one, introduced its video-on-demand service in late August in Comcast homes. The programming slate includes behind-the-scenes material, full episodes of current shows and content from Lifetime's library. The VOD service, late to market, has been built to enhance the cable product. It debuted with the ads sold out from charter advertisers like Kraft Foods.

"We knew [women's] schedules are busy and they can't sit down exactly when the programs are ready," says Jen Soch, VP-associate director of digital video innovation at Kraft agency MediaVest USA, New York. "So VOD offers a great opportunity to see shows when they are ready, be it at 3 [a.m.] during a feeding, or at 1 p.m. when the kids are taking a nap."

Female-targeted networks need to be attuned to the trends as broader lifestyle changes sweep across women's lives, she says.

Oxygen launched a pair of VOD-only networks two years ago and also offers programming on iTunes. WE TV offers shows on VOD and via Amp'd Mobile.

SoapNet made its signature reality series, "I Wanna Be a Soap Star," available on iTunes this summer. The soap-centric network was founded on the premise of "time shifting," since SoapNet telecasts during prime time the top five daytime serials.

"The network was created nearly seven years ago to meet the changing lifestyles of soap viewers and continues to evolve as consumers evolve," says Deborah Blackwell, general manager for SoapNet.

In the women's arena, Lifetime is the top dog. For the first nine months of 2006, Lifetime checked in with a 1.4 household rating and a 0.8 in the women 18-49 demo, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The networks insist they're not competing head to head.

"We think we go head to head against all television and all forms of media that can draw women's attention," says Lynn Picard, president-ad sales for Lifetime Entertainment Services and exec VP-general manager for Lifetime Television.

Lifetime dropped its "Television for women" tagline earlier this year and now uses the marketing theme "My story" for its shows.

"One thing we kept hearing over and over, and that's reflected in our new brand position, is women don't want to be told what's television for them," says Mike Alvarez, VP-Lifetime partnerships at Lifetime Entertainment Services. "That goes back to people programming on their own, choosing content on their own, and all the different formats and media. So much of that is driven by technology, and that's why [the old tagline] was dropped."

WE TV, which used to be WE: Women's Entertainment, not only changed its name but adopted the new tagline "We have more fun."

The network stockpiled and showed mostly movies its first five years; now it's shifting to more original content. About a year ago, it began adding more "true life" stories such as "Bridezillas" and "America's Cutest Puppies."

changing viewership

"It's really a reflection of women and what they want to watch on TV," says Kim Martin, exec VP-general manager for the network, adding, "Most of our viewers tend to be married, college-educated and work outside the home, and about half of those have children."

As women's spending power increases, WE TV is pitching advertisers such as auto makers and financial services companies, Ms. Martin says.

Like the others, Oxygen has donned a new tagline: "She did what?" The network is touting specific shows, such as "Campus Ladies" and "The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency."

Oxygen actively courts the racy image. "I think [HBO's] 'Sex & the City' changed the landscape on TV for women, and we have picked up that and carried on," Ms. Beece says.

But Oxygen and the other female-skewing rivals to Lifetime have a ways to go in defining a niche in the way FX has carved out a role as the racy general-entertainment cable network, says Brad Adgate, senior VP-research at Horizon Media, New York.

There's still an opportunity, he says, for a women's network to really capture the frenetic, crazed feeling busy women have in the same way Fox's "Ally McBeal" did years ago.
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