(BLACKAMERICAWEB) One advantage Oprah Winfrey might have in establishing an identity for her new television network is that many of her competitors are in the same situation, even if they’ve been around for a while.
Some of the biggest existing cable networks that are aimed at women — Lifetime, WE, Hallmark and Oxygen — are in some degree of transition as Winfrey’s OWN prepares for its New Year’s Day debut. The goal is to distinguish themselves so OWN won’t siphon off viewers.
“They have to ante up and come out fighting,” said Shari Anne Brill, longtime industry analyst and founder of “The Brill Beat” blog.
Competing network executives have been watching the shaky process of OWN taking shape, and expect that a mix of aspirational programming that Winfrey has been associated with on her own talk show won’t compete directly with what they’re doing. They also know, however, that Winfrey and backer Discovery Communications Inc. have the patience and money to try different things if at first they don’t succeed.
“It will have an effect on WE,” said John Miller, WE’s programming chief. “Pinpointing exactly what that is would be a perilous thing.”
Lifetime is the biggest competitor and, at this stage, the biggest mystery.
Less than a decade ago, it was the nation’s most popular cable network; now it’s not even in the top dozen. One problem for Lifetime is that most of its original movies — formulaic but popular with the primarily older audience — have been switched to a spinoff network devoted solely to movies. Hallmark faces a similar problem.
The latest in a line of executives charged with turning Lifetime around is Nancy Dubuc, who made History a success with breezy nonfiction hits such as “Ice Road Truckers” and “Pawn Stars.” Dubuc, who stayed with History while adding Lifetime to her responsibilities last spring, has kept quiet about her plans while evaluating options. She declined to speak to The Associated Press for this story.
One hint into what she’s looking at are proposed series ordered into development. One would star Sherry Stringfield of “ER” as a soon-to-be-divorced San Diego detective and her just-engaged partner, played by Jamie-Lynn Sigler. There are a couple of other police series, along with a drama about a woman asked by the FBI to spy on her husband, and a woman who is chief of staff at a university psychiatric department.
Lifetime has also ordered 20 episodes of a Heidi Klum series, “Seriously Funny Kids,” with a producer of “Kids Say the Darndest Things” behind it. One potential nonfiction series, “One Born Every Minute,” follows women in an Ohio maternity ward.
Brill suggested that Lifetime, which normally features its best original programming in the summer when the broadcast networks are slumbering, be more aggressive this winter to keep its audience away from OWN.
Lifetime’s audience is 76 percent women, according to the Nielsen Co. WE (77 percent women), Hallmark (75 percent) and Oxygen (73 percent) all have about the same audience composition.
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