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Laybourne's Labor of Love

11/28/2004 7:00 PM Eastern

The women's programming genre is clearly now in turmoil, with WE anointing a new chieftain after Kathy Dore's departure to Canada. On top of that, Lifetime Television is hunting for a president, given Carole Black's recent resignation.

But down at New York City's Chelsea Market, headquarters for Oxygen Media Inc., chairman and CEO Geraldine Laybourne has a different story to tell. So don't miss This Week in Cable to see and hear her candid assessment of the women's programming sector (online at www.multichannel.com/multivision). First, may I commend the TWIC crew for even finding and arriving on time for the interview. Chelsea Market is a tough place to navigate, given all the vendors offering a host of enticing distractions.

Thankfully, the usual throng of audience members for Live With Emeril — the popular Food Network show also housed in that converted factory — was nowhere in sight. Trust me, I've been in that mosh pit of foodies. This is no easy destination point.

That's the backdrop for the environment Oxygen chose to operate when it launched nearly five years ago. Hard to believe, but come February, the struggling, independent network celebrates its fifth birthday.

After a rocky start, Oxygen now operates at a profit and reaches more than 54 million subscribers, still on track to the business plan.

In this age of consolidation, it's an amazing tale of struggle and succes. Laybourne, who made a name for herself years ago with Nickelodeon, is just as passionate about serving what she describes as another underserved audience, young women.

While Oxygen is hardly a ratings barn burner, its claim to fame comes largely from Madison Avenue. Agencies appreciate its younger demos, compared to the established Lifetime's audience of females 50-plus. On Oxygen you see ads for items that never appear on Lifetime, like booze and beer.

I sat down with Laybourne just after she'd announced that Adelphia would launch Oxygen on expanded basic, including in such key markets as Los Angeles and Miami. That's a good thing. On my system, Oxygen resides on channel 180.

Laybourne also had something to say about Lifetime, something she knows a lot about. After her long stint at Viacom, she went over to The Walt Disney Co. where that network was under her purview.

In our interview, Laybourne said because Lifetime was such a huge, successful brand, it's been somewhat trapped by its success and can't abandon its older audience. In other words, it's hard to turn around a big ship so swiftly. In other words, good luck to the next president. Meow.

Laybourne also talks about the things she learned at Disney that jump-started her own creative juices — and let her to go solo, creating Oxygen from scratch. Though Oxygen still lives in Lifetime's shadow, her team has made some smart programming moves with top talent like Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres.

So take a peek at my interview with Laybourne, and get her take on the women's market.

September