Like Amazonian wildlife during mating season, cable networks are on the prowl — for females. While this is normal for Lifetime, Oxygen and WE tv, the volume of suitors outside this highly targeted troika is growing.

It’s the survival instinct at work. Women now possess top household purchasing power, smack in the middle of advertisers’ sweet spot, and networks vying for ad dollars must give their clients something to rally around.

As recently as last fall, Hallmark Channel EVP of ad sales Bill Abbott began noticing a shift. Advertisers "are buying more [demographic] specific," he says. "We’ve definitely seen more in the insurance, financial services and tech categories that target women."

As a result, Hallmark is rethinking its programming schedule and developing "targeted programming packages" that meet advertisers’ needs. That means more blocks of female-appeal programming such as romantic comedies, Abbott says. "The environment is so competitive right now. We need to be very targeted and tailor our schedules to deliver the most efficient vehicles for our clients."

MTV Networks is taking a similar tack. It is rolling out a business model to help clients advertise to women and other subgroups across its properties. "We’re starting to aggregate different demographics across the MTV Networks websites, so rather than just coming to mtv.com to buy young women, advertisers can aggregate across, say, The N and other sites," says Dan Lovinger, SVP of MTV 360 brand sales.

The strategy dovetails with MTV’s recent leap across the gender divide. The network now leans slightly female in viewership, a shift that has come in part due to "our strength in programming pockets with women, which we continue to build on," a high-level programming executive told CableWorld before he left the network in the recent wave of layoffs. MTV’s Monday prime-time lineup already looked like ladies night before the network sweetened the pot with the addition of the Jennifer Lopez-produced Dancelife and a live broadband chat after The Hills.

Networks are "finding that if women are the principal shoppers and make more key decisions, then women are the key demographic advertisers need to get in front of — and [networks] need programming for them," says Jordan Breslow, director of broadcast research at media buying firm MediaCom.

Most networks report upticks in female-targeted ads for the normally male bastions of financial services and consumer electronics, among other categories. "Women are making more decisions on these kinds of services, and advertisers know that," says Lynn Picard, EVP/GM of Lifetime Television. "We are seeing a lot more money coming to Lifetime from those sectors." Likewise, the addition of Hewlett-Packard and Liberty Mutual as primary sponsors for WE’s original series She House Cinema "was a big coup for us," notes GM Kim Martin.

Yet today’s über-competitive environment begs the question: With so many networks chasing women, will the three women’s networks get hurt?

"Competition for women is fierce, which means for networks that specialize in women, it’s got to be a tougher time. And that means it’s a tougher argument for distributors to feel obligated to carry all three networks," says JupiterResearch analyst Todd Chanko.

"If I’m a media buyer and my client is Estée Lauder…it’s going to be really hard for me to decide which of the three [women’s] networks I should go on," Chanko adds. "There’s already a cannibalization issue here, and with added competition from other networks it gets even more difficult."

Picard of Lifetime says "it’s the more generic networks, the USAs and Turners, where they don’t strongly target one sex or another, who are more vulnerable." An MSO exec, who requested anonymity, said, "Lifetime, Oxygen and WE each have a unique brand they execute faithfully, and each has a slightly different twist on the way they directly speak to the female demographic."

Thus far, Lifetime and Oxygen are maintaining their queen-bee status in viewership. From January ’06 to January ’07, Lifetime was up 12% and Lifetime Movie Network 26% among women 18 to 49, according to Nielsen Media Research data. Oxygen jumped 17%. WE tv’s 2006 was its best year for prime delivery of households and women 18-34, 18-49, 25-49 and 25-54.

Connecting to Women 24/7

Another plus for the three women’s networks is that they offer operators something other channels simply cannot — a direct line to women 24/7.

Though other nets are courting women, says Delia Passi, president of marketing firm Medelia Communications, she believes trying to be all things to all viewers will fall short with women: "With women, the more targeted you are to her needs, the more successful you’ll be in converting her to a loyal viewer."

Lifetime’s awareness campaigns for breast cancer and domestic violence show operators "we’re not just about television," Picard says. "We give them the opportunity to be in communities and a platform to work with, which is critical to them."

Oxygen worked with Cox on a female-targeted promotion for high-speed Internet, and has taken a follow-up campaign to other MSOs. The network is working on a platform through which affiliates can integrate VOD content. "Local VOD content is important to them," says Mary Murano, Oxygen EVP of affiliate sales.

WE took a page from its popular series Bridezillas as the basis of a promotion to help operators sell women on the bundle. "It’s along the lines of, ‘Don’t be a Bridezilla with your bills. Get it all in one place,’" Martin says.

Competition Moving In

But many general networks are working on twists of their own. "We’re finding some of the traditional entertainment-based networks like Bravo going after women, with Project Runway and The Real Housewives of Orange County," MediaCom’s Breslow says.

Bravo saw a 45% leap in women 18 to 49 from January ’06 to January ’07, according to Nielsen data. "We’ve had a lot of success with these shows, which appeal to women," says Frances Berwick, EVP of programming and production. New series Top Design is primed for female viewers. [For a video interview with Top Design judges Todd Oldham and Jonathan Adler please visit: www.cable360.net]

TBS struck a chord with women late last year with the debut of original series My Boys, which features a strong female lead. Says Turner Entertainment Networks president Steve Koonin, "The essence of our programming is family…whether it’s the nuclear family in Everybody Loves Raymond or four women…in Sex and the City [on TBS]."

Another network making a play for women is ABC Family. Its Jan. 21 debut of Lovewrecked rated 4.7 among female teens, the highest rating in two years for that demo across all networks. "Young women have proven to be an enthusiastic and loyal audience for original series like Wildfire and movies like Lovewrecked," says network president Paul Lee. The network was up 5% among women 18 to 49 in January ’07 vs. January ’06.

The Popular Sex

The Trend: General entertainment networks are aggressively courting female viewers with more targeted programming.

The Reason: Money talks. Madison Ave. is also chasing women since they’re making the majority of household buying decisions, and networks need to keep ad clients happy.

What It Means for Operators: Increased competition could diminish the leverage of traditional women’s networks. But Lifetime, Oxygen and WE tv offer MSOs a distinct benefit — the ability to directly address women 24/7.

Roundup of Women’s Programmers, and Beyond…

Lifetime, Oxygen and WE tv program for women specifically and at all times, but more networks see the potential in that trio’s desired audience.

NETWORKS TARGETING WOMEN

LIFETIME
Launch Date: February 1984
Ownership: 50/50 venture between Hearst Co./ Walt Disney Co.
Management: Betty Cohen, president/CEO, Lifetime Entertainment Services; Susanne Daniels, president, entertainment, Lifetime Entertainment Services; Lynn Picard, EVP/GM, Lifetime Television; Louise Henry Bryson, EVP/GM, Lifetime Movie Network
Distribution: Lifetime, 92 million homes; Lifetime Movie Network, 52 million homes
Top Shows: original movies on both channels

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
Distribution: 69 million homes
Top Shows: The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency, Snapped, Campus Ladies

WE TV
Launch Date: 1997 as Romance Classics, 2001 as WE: Women’s Entertainment, 2006 rebranded as WE tv
Ownership: Rainbow Media Holdings
Management: Ed Carroll, president, Rainbow Entertainment Services; Kim Martin, EVP/GM, WE; Steve Cheskin, SVP, programming; Kennetta Bailey, SVP, marketing
Distribution: 62 million homes
Top Shows: Bridezillas, American Princess, Secret Lives of Women, John Edward Cross Country

NETWORKS WOOING WOMEN

E! ENTERTAINMENT TELEVISION
Launch Date: June 1990
Ownership: 100% owned by subsidiaries of Comcast
Management: Ted Harbert, president/CEO, Comcast Entertainment Group; Steve Dolcemaschio, EVP, finance & business operations; Suzanne Kolb, EVP, marketing; Salaam Coleman Smith, EVP, Style Network
Distribution: 89 million homes
Top Shows: The Girls Next Door, Dr. 90210, The Soup

HGTV
Launch Date: December 1994
Ownership: Scripps Networks
Management: Judy Girand, president; Lori Asbury, SVP, marketing/creative services; Michael Dingley, SVP, programming/content strategy
Distribution: 91 million homes
Top Shows: House Hunters, My House Is Worth What?, Design on a Dime

SOAPNET
Launch Date: January 2000
Ownership: The Walt Disney Co.
Management: Deborah Blackwell, EVP/GM, SOAPnet; Brian Frons, president, daytime, Disney-ABC Television Group
Distribution: 57.9 million homes
Top Shows: Days of Our Lives, General Hospital, The Young and the Restless

STYLE NETWORK
Launch Date: October 1998
Ownership: 100% owned by subsidiaries of Comcast
Management: Ted Harbert, president/CEO, Comcast Entertainment Group; Steve Dolcemaschio, EVP, finance & business operations; Suzanne Kolb, EVP, marketing; Salaam Coleman Smith, EVP, Style Network
Distribution: 56 million homes
Top Shows: Clean House, Extreme Makeover, How Do I Look?

ALSO KNOCKING AT THE DOOR

ABC FAMILY
Launch Date: November 2001
Ownership: The Walt Disney Co.
Management: Paul Lee, president; Kate Juergens, SVP, original series programming and development; Tom Zappala, SVP, program acquisitions and scheduling; John Rood, SVP, brand marekting
Distribution: 91 million homes
Top Shows: Kyle XY, Wildfire, Lincoln Heights

BRAVO
Launch Date: December 1980
Ownership: NBC Universal
Management: Frances Berwick, EVP, programming and production; Andy Cohen, SVP, production and programming; Jason Klarman, SVP, marketing and brand strategy; Jerry Leo, VP, strategic program planning and scheduling
Distribution: 83 million homes
Top Shows: Project Runway, Top Chef, The Real Housewives of Orange County

HALLMARK CHANNEL
Launch Date: August 2001
Ownership: Crown Media Holdings
Management: Henry Schleiff, president/CEO; William Abbott, EVP, advertising sales; David Kenin, EVP, programming; Laura Masse, EVP, marketing
Distribution: 75 million homes
Top Shows: The Christmas Card, Hidden Places, What I Did for Love

MTV
Launch Date: August 1981
Ownership: Viacom
Management: Christina Norman, president, MTV; Brian Graden, president of entertainment, MTV Networks Music Group and president of LOGO; Lois Curren, EVP, series entertainment and programming; Sean Moran, EVP, MTV 360 ad sales distribution
Distribution: 496.1 million homes
Top Shows: Real World/Road Rules, The Hills

TBS
Launch Date: December 1976
Ownership: Turner Broadcasting System/Time Warner
Management: Steve Koonin, president, Turner Entertainment Networks; Michael Wright, SVP, original programming for TNT and TBS; Jeff Gregor, chief marketing officer, TBS and TNT
Distribution: 91.7 million homes
Top Shows: Everybody Loves Raymond, Family Guy, My Boys

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