Cable takes the floor:
WE’s Dirty Dancing: Living the Dream. Ask any woman and she’ll tell you—variety is the spice of life. Armed with the remote and aided by the DVR, these consummate multitaskers are a moving target for the networks that specifically program for them and that must constantly prove their own value to cable operators and other distributors.

The variety of ways women access content is almost as important as the shows themselves. Contrary to conventional wisdom, women are more interested than men in accessing on-demand programming via TV or Internet, with 53% of women citing a strong likelihood to do so compared with 45% of men, according to a recent survey by Marquest Media and Entertainment Research.

“Women are clearly interested in using on-demand technology in general, and they are definitely using it to access programming directed to them,” says Paul Rule, Marquest president.

In line with the Marquest research, a recent CTAM study revealed that 24% of women are watching more cable VOD than they did six months ago. The networks targeting them are taking notice.

After holding out longer than most ad-supported channels, Lifetime finally launched its VOD service in August, offering episodes of Cheerleader Nation, Lovespring International, Intimate Portrait and other original series to an initial 10 million Comcast subscribers. It’s also evolving its website from a promotional tool to content hub after the success of a recent Off the Leash photo promotion that drew more than 6,000 submissions.

“This is an audience people didn’t think necessarily knew how to upload a photo, but clearly they do,” says Dan Suratt, Lifetime’s EVP of digital media and business development.

Oxygen has made much of its original programming—The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency, Breaking Up With Shannen Doherty, Campus Ladies, Talk Sex and Girls Behaving Badly—available on VOD via a variety of operators including Adelphia, Comcast, Insight and Time Warner.

WE also rotates its popular original shows through VOD. “There’s no question women today are more comfortable with technology,” says Kim Martin, EVP/GM at WE tv. “Access to content on VOD reinforces the chance for viewers to go back and view more of our shows on the linear network.”

Imitating Reality

Competing with Lifetime, Oxygen and WE tv for women’s precious viewing time are increasingly flirty niche networks such as SOAPnet and Style Network. “Other networks targeted to women tend to be general entertainment networks,” says Salaam Coleman Smith, EVP of Style, which skews about 70% female. “We provide a very consistent, branded viewer experience. Viewers are coming not just for their favorite shows, they’re coming specifically to the network as a destination.”

In response, the women’s networks are beefing up their reality slates and attempting to dig deeper into the female perspective. Interestingly, a survey of current and upcoming programs on Lifetime, Oxygen and WE finds them rubbing shoulders on many of the same topics as the broadcast networks and each other—and relying on their unique tone to set them apart.

“There’s nothing wrong with doing another take on something out there already,” says Martin. WE recently launched the dance competition series Dirty Dancing: Living the Dream. “Dancing With the Stars is on broadcast; we’re just doing the WE version.”

Among other double visions: Hair styling gets two looks courtesy of WE’s upcoming Hair Trauma and Oxygen’s Tease. Cheerleading enthusiasts can sashay between Lifetime’s Cheerleader Nation and WE’s upcoming Cheerleader U. And dog lovers have a choice between two upcoming pet projects on WE and Lifetime’s Off the Leash.
 

Diversity at Lifetime

More than a singular sensation, Cheerleader Nation helped usher in Lifetime’s new, more youthful vibe. With carriage in 91 million homes and a 1.4 rating through the first three quarters of 2006, according to Nielsen Media Research data, the network remains den mother, but it has been spicing up its roster to draw younger viewers.

Dramatic series Angela’s Eyes is among the network’s most popular shows, and this month Lifetime premieres prime-time soap Monarch Cove, which is based on a European telenovela. Not surprisingly, the network is expanding its roster of reality shows. Next spring it will roll out Army Wives and State of Mind, the latter featuring a panel of psychiatrists. There’ s even a new game show, Finding Mr. Right, set for a January launch with a strong Web component.

“Our viewers have a lot of interests, so what you’re seeing from us [now] is an incredible diversity of programming. We want to figure out what they’re looking for from Lifetime in terms of series,” says Susanne Daniels, president, entertainment, at Lifetime. “The important message we want to send viewers is the lights are on at Lifetime in a big way.”
 
Oxygen’s Edge

For its part, No. 2-rated women’s network Oxygen has carved out a well-defined niche of edgy attitude manifested in original series like Mo’Nique’s Fat Chance, Talk Sex, Janice Dickinson and Campus Ladies. “We’ve hit a nerve that is very bold and takes risks, and we’ve turned some stereotypes on their head,” says Debby Beece, president of programming and marketing at Oxygen.

Today 30% of Oxygen’s programming is original and much of it is reality-based, earning the network a prime-time Nielsen rating of .3 in the first three quarters of 2006.

“We want women to forget where they are for a moment and get involved in something exciting,” Beece says. “It’s about coming up with a show you can’t get ahead of. We’re trying to surprise everyone.”

More surprises are in store with the December debut of The Bad Girls Club, developed by Jon Murray of Bunim-Murray Productions and Real World fame. The show follows the daily ups and downs in a group home for women trying to get better control of their lives.
 
Bite-Size Fun at WE

Building on its girlfriend-to-girlfriend vibe, WE tv has upped its original programming from 5% to 40% since its 2001 launch, and seen double-digit ratings increases in all dayparts from ’05. Through the first three quarters of this year, the network delivered a .29 rating in prime time.

The network’s philosophy of generally eschewing movies in favor of bite-size episodics seems to be working with its target 18-49 audience. During the past year WE has decreased the average age of its viewers by three years. “When I sit down to watch TV, I love a great movie, but I can’t do that seven nights a week,” Martin says. “Our programming is easier to fit into a busy schedule.”

WE’s focus on relationships, personal style and pop culture makes reality programming a natural fit for the network (Martin prefers the term “true-life TV”). Bridezillas is a consistent favorite, and beyond Dirty Dancing and Hair Trauma, 2007 will see the launch of Adventures in Doggie Daycare, America’s Cutest Puppies and Designer to the Stars: Kari Whitman.
 
Pass the Popcorn

It’s clear some women still love to settle in with a good movie. Hallmark Channel woos women with a slate heavy on movies, many of them revolving around the holidays. Lifetime’s sister diginet Lifetime Movie Network, available in 51 million homes, averages a 0.7 prime-time rating and is ranked as cable subscribers’ favorite digital basic cable network, according to a new Beta research study.

The network’s Lifetime Original Movie franchise remains its most-watched programming. It delivered 24 million viewers in August for The Fantasia Barrino Story: Life Is Not a Fairy Tale, the second-highest-rated movie in the network’s history. In February Lifetime will air original movies based on Nora Roberts’ novels for four consecutive weekends.

Oxygen’s prime-time schedule is also still movie-heavy, and the network has high hopes for upcoming original production The Robber Bride, based on the Margaret Atwood novel. “The audience loves original movies, and the longer stories are always fun,” Beece says. WOMEN’S PROGRAMMING SERVICES ROUNDUP Lifetime’s Monarch Cove Lifetime Television
Launch Date: February 1984
Ownership: 50/50 venture between Hearst Co./ Walt Disney Co.
Management: Betty Cohen, president/CEO; Susanne Daniels, president, entertainment; Lynn Picard, EVP/GM, Lifetime Television; Louise Henry Bryson, EVP, distribution & affiliate business development, EVP/GM of Lifetime Movie Network
Subscribers: 91 million
Top Shows: Lifetime Original Movies, Angela’s Eyes Campus Ladies on Oxygen Oxygen
Launch Date: February 2000
Ownership: Independent
Management: Geraldine Laybourne, founder/CEO; Lisa Gersh, president/COO; Debby Beece, president, programming & marketing; Daniel Taitz, chief administrative officer; Geoffrey Darby, president, interactive; Mary G. Murano, EVP, affiliate sales
Subscribers: 69 million
Top Shows: The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency, Snapped, Campus Ladies America’s Cutest Puppies on WE WE TV
Launch Date: 1997 as Romance Classics, 2001 rebranded as WE: Women’s Entertainment, 2006 rebranded as WE tv
Ownership: Rainbow Media Holdings
Management: Ed Carroll, president of Rainbow Entertainment Services; Kim Martin, EVP/GM of WE
Subscribers: 60 million
Top Shows: Bridezillas, Secret Lives of Women, John Edward Cross Country Hallmark Channel
Launch Date: August 2001
Ownership: Crown Media Holdings
Management: Henry Schleiff, president/CEO; David Kenin, EVP, programming
Subscribers: 74 million
Comments: Hallmark is pitted squarely against Lifetime, LMN and other networks that woo women with a movie-heavy slate. While the channel has dumped most of the overtly religious programming of the Odyssey days, it holds fast to good, clean story lines that often revolve around the holidays. Like much of its competition, Hallmark is doggedly working to lower the median age of its viewers—currently around 58—with a landslide of original programming. This year it’s premiering more than 20 new movies and miniseries, including new episodes of its popular Mystery Movies franchise. SOAPnet
Launch Date: January 2000
Ownership: The Walt Disney Co.
Management: Deborah Blackwell, SVP/GM
Subscribers: 51 million
Top Shows: reruns of soap operas, Soap Talk, I Wanna Be a Soap Star
Comments: SOAPnet is having success both selling the drama—in reruns of same-day and classic soaps—and branching out with original programming. Its foray into reality TV, I Wanna Be a Soap Star, remains strong, and it also offers behind-the-scenes exposes like Soap Talk and Soapography. The network is also working the multimedia angle among young viewers, most recently in a promotion seeking college-student-produced mini-dramas. Ten finalists’ shows will air on SoapNet.com, and the winner will bag $20,000 to produce programming for the linear network. Isaac on Style Network Style Network
Launch Date: October 1998
Ownership: E! Networks
Management: Ted Harbert, president/CEO, Comcast Entertainment Group; Salaam Coleman Smith, EVP; Steve Dolcemaschio, EVP, finance & business operations; Suzanne Kolb, EVP, marketing
Subscribers: 43 million
Top Shows: Clean House, How Do I Look?, Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?
Comments: Style Network is less about a given show on a given night, and more about a transcending vibe. And that’s just the way the network likes it. With its integrated slate of fashion and home decor programming, the network aims to entertain and enlighten everyday women. It’s been ramping up its short-form original programming, with plans to follow sister network E!’s lead into multiplatform distribution heaven. And while it plays up consistently top-rated shows like Clean House and How Do I Look?, Style is grooming two leading men—Isaac Mizrahi, through his show Isaac, and Jay Manuel, host of the new Style Her Famous—as next-generation faces of the network. Check out the rest of CableWorld’s 2006 Most Powerful Women issue – click here.

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