If Oxygen—with its 74+mln homes—opts for a media partner to grow, what’s the chance of any net staying independent in this day and age? Oxygen chmn/CEO Gerry Laybourne is proud of her roots. “I don’t think we would’ve gotten where we are today if we weren’t independent,” she said during a Tues conference call on NBCU’s $925mln purchase of the company. “It’s very hard in this business to get the funding to build a brand new franchise,” she said, pointing to how Oxygen turned to outside markets. But what Oxygen needs now is cross promotion. “We have great programs, but we have absolutely no cross promotional platform,” said Laybourne, who will stay on through the end of the year and help with the transition. NBCU used the “Today Show” to hype Bravo’s “Project Runway” and “Top Chef.” Oxygen could use that, as well as NBC’s iVillage, to similarly promote shows. Crown pres/CEO Henry Schleiff said the Oxygen deal simply highlights the value of “the few remaining beach property independent networks that are out there” (Crown’s Hallmark has reportedly caught the eye of Turner). HDNet co-founder Mark Cuban told Cfax there’s no question that it’s difficult for independent nets. “So many of the big media companies force networks that no one watches on distributors that it does make it tough for indies like HDNet to get full carriage,” he said. Even an indie with the strength of the National Football League behind it has had trouble. “There are definitely issues here that it seems like the government is going to have to get involved in to help solve,” spokesman Seth Palansky said, acknowledging that cable distribution is “far from going well… That’s really why we’re going to push the regulatory angle. There are dozens of nets like us that are independent.” Indeed, the FCC is examining whether to strengthen program carriage rules to protect indie nets in their dealings with distributors (see At the Portals). Outdoor Channel, which is in about 31mln homes, is working on renewal and carriage deals. Pres/CEO Roger Werner said that “dealing with the bigger guys in the business is not an easy thing to do these days.” He said the Oxygen deal is just further evidence of consolidation in rapidly shrinking industry. “There won’t be that many independent anythings left in another 5-10 years,” he said, adding that neither Republicans nor Democrats seem that interested in the dwindling number of independent voices. “I don’t see that trend being reversed anytime soon.”

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