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.)
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