Oxygen Media - a woman's place or wasted space? - With cable channels such as Lifetime ...

Oxygen Media - a woman's place or wasted space? - With cable channels such as Lifetime and A&E aiming for the female audience already, is there room for another contender, Oxygen Media? Claire Atkinson investigates.

Oxygen Media - a woman's place or wasted space? - With cable channels such as Lifetime and A&E aiming for the female audience already, is there room for another contender, Oxygen Media? Claire Atkinson investigates.

1998 has been a good year for women in the media and things look like they are going to get better with the current rush to serve women's interests.

Disney has been one of the most forward-thinking media companies in appointing high ranking women and supporting women-oriented projects.

Earlier this year, Disney owned ABC network appointed Patricia Fili-Krushel president of ABC TV Network, working alongside another newly appointed woman, Laurie Younger, chief financial officer at the network.

Disney also backed Geraldine Laybourne when she decided to quit as head of the company's cable interests. Along with AOL, Disney became an investor in her new company, Oxygen Media.

Laybourne, who set out with the intention of creating a media brand aimed specifically at a female audience, announced an ambitious plan last week to create a new cable channel catering to women of all age groups.

Oxygen Media shareholders, Disney and AOL, put their faith in Laybourne because of her track record. She was largely responsible for building Nickelodeon.

The new channel already has guaranteed distribution following a deal with Tele-Communications, which will net Oxygen seven million subscribers when it launches on January 1, 2000. But in a crowded cable world, how quickly will it be able to build a profitable distribution?

Oprah's Harpo Productions and independent production company Carsey-Werner-Mandabach (CWM) will contribute financially and will help to program the new channel. Oxygen Media is hoping that its connection with the popular Oprah Winfrey and CWM - responsible for the hits Roseanne and Third Rock From the Sun - will help draw the crowds.

Oxygen has already established a considerable Internet presence with sites such as Electra (general women's interest), MomsOnline and ThriveOnline (Health and Fitness). The plan is to combine these with Oprah Online and link them to the new channel in order to hold interactive debates and get feedback.

Laybourne, chairman and chief executive of Oxygen Media, aims to provide more intelligent programming to female viewers and said in a statement: 'We have a vision of Oxygen as the homebase for women, delivering the information, resources, support and convenience to help women and meet all their needs.'

Disney is not the only company to have seen the potential of the women's market. Last Monday, NBC announced it was taking a minority stake in iVillage, the Internet-based women's information service. NBC will promote iVillage on the network and its cable channels, MSNBC, CNBC and via Snap, the web portal owned by NBC and CNet.

While some commentators agree that Oxygen will be a force to be reckoned with, not all are convinced that women are badly served.

Bob Flood, DeWitt Media's senior vice president of national television says: 'Female viewing is plentiful; upscale men are more difficult.' Flood adds that channels such as Lifetime, A&E, and Discovery's Travel Channel are good ways to target women.

To anyone who questions the importance of the female consumer, Laybourne states: 'Women are the unrecognized economic powerhouse in this country. They now control over 70% of all consumer spending in the US.'

Christy Slewinski, editor of TV Vue, the Sunday supplement to the New York Daily News, is not in favor of such distinct gender branding. She says the new entity should make the issue 'quality not gender. The women's angle should be more subtle.'

She adds, 'People are very diverse. I have my Black and Decker ... men may miss out if they stamp it with a women's label. It should be about quality programming.'.

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