Why NBCU wants Oxygen

Posted by: Diane Brady on October 9, 2007

The rumors have turned out to be true as NBC Universal today announced that it’s paying $925 million ($875 million, net of financial assets) to buy Oxygen Media. That’s the woman-centric cable network that offers such shows as Talk Sex with Sue Johanson, The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency, and — my personal favorite — reruns of Absolutely Fabulous.

Why is NBCU chief Jeff Zucker so eager to get immersed in the world of women? For one thing, it could help beef up iVillage—a female-focused web site (and now on TV with iVillage Live) that has had disappointing traffic since being acquired last year but is starting to pick up.

One challenge with iVillage is that it tries to offer up everything that it thinks women want. The home page today features video on Britney Spears, a pregnancy calendar, a quiz on whether you’re too jealous, a piece on fingerprinting kids, a Meredith Vieira blog and must-have decorations for Hallowe’en. It’s reminds me of the “Women’s Page” that used to appear in newspapers a generation ago, and ultimately went the way of The Wurlitzer. While I visit the site frequently out of curiosity, it has yet to grab me as a loyal reader.

On the other hand, I do like Oxygen. The network is edgier and less earnest than, say, Lifetime. I don’t even mind that it has a pregnancy calendar on its site, too, as it’s subtle rather than a belly with an ultrasound photo that’s fighting for space with Meredith and Britney on iVillage. There’s a sense of irreverence that comes through. And you can see why shows like Tori & Dean: Inn Love are drawing in young viewers. They’re either smitten with the Hollywood romance or waiting for the train wreck to happen.

NBC Universal could use some more diversity in its arsenal. With the exception of Heroes and Sunday Night Football, NBC’s prime-time offerings still struggle. CNBC is hot right now, but competition from the Fox Business Network looms large as it prepares to launch on October 15. The movie business and other cable networks are faring fine, but Zucker recently complained that entertainment companies are losing the war against piracy.

Even with the boon of airing the Beijing Olympics, there have been questions about whether parent GE wants to stay in media and entertainment for the long term.

One strategy is to build up loyal, interactive communities of customers. The kind who are addicted to the Today show, go to iVillage and watch Oxygen. For more on the deal, read this. (The writer is my sister, but she’s good and we women like to stick together.)

Reader Comments

Shawn Ames

October 9, 2007 12:45 PM

This is a great opportunity for NBC to leverage a devoted and brand loyal community of mainly females. I think it's a great acquisition.

Erica Gregg

October 9, 2007 12:46 PM

I personal think that oxygen needs it own network station because it is a channel for women only and it as shows women impowerment so NBCU just need to sit down and brain storm somethings that will make the network offerings higher than ever

Randy

October 9, 2007 1:19 PM

As an investment, it makes significant sense. Increasingly in the US, women are in charge of the finances, and advertisers are beginning to realize this.

The Oxygen and iVillage properties give NBC much stronger access to these increasingly critical consumers.

Richard

October 9, 2007 2:24 PM

I think many are missing a key piece of this buy. Geraldine Laybourne. She Put Nickelodeon on the Map and branched out with Nick at Nite, TV Land etc. Oxygen is her baby, and hopefully She will play an active in Oxygen (and perhaps other NBCU cable properties)

Diane

October 9, 2007 2:28 PM

You raise a good point. Gerry Laybourne is a powerhouse and will continue to run Oxygen. It's also interesting to note that Paul Allen seems to be intent on dumping his media properties. First, Dreamworks. Now, this.

Nicholas Kromka

October 10, 2007 2:36 AM

Ah. They'll probably only end up ruining this ever-growing niche channel. Just look at what happened when Ted Turner sold his soul and his company for a quick buck and a power trip. Even HE says he kind of regrets merging it w/ Time Warner. And look at how much crappier the once-NBC Uni-free channels have gotten since the takeover. Now you *can't* tell me we're better off than we were w/ Sci-Fi Channel. And they said the sky's the limits when they bought Telemundo. Years and years later, it *still* lags far behind the mighty Telemundo. Probably always will! And I'll close w/ a sincere plea NOT to muck w/ the branding. We don't need a "NBC Womens (Channel)". Here in Canada, I'm still put off by the damage Corus Entertainment has done w/ W Network. It was *much* better when it was WTN - Women's Television Network.

Lynn Heffron

October 10, 2007 10:52 AM

I invite the author and your readers to visit www.diversityspectrum.com to see how we highlight women's issues from a more professional point of view.

Jessica

October 11, 2007 4:51 PM

Interesting post. I agree that iVillage is all over the place. How are you supposed to develop a loyal audience when you haven't decided what audience you're speaking to? I think that NBC, and especially iVillage, can benefit from Oxygen's very loyal viewers.

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