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Lifetime Goes All In

4/02/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

Lifetime is doubling down on original programming, offering more than 300 hours of such
fare, up from 175 a year ago. With new female-targeted reality shows like Love
for Sail
and 7 Days of Sex joining established franchises like Dance Moms and Project
Runway
— along with four scripted series and 30 original films — Lifetime is poised for the
first time to have its primetime lineup be 100% original programming. Multichannel News
programming editor R. Thomas Umstead spoke with Lifetime Networks executive vice president of
programming Rob Sharenow about A&E Networks-owned Lifetime’s strategy.

MCN: How do you see Lifetime’s original
programming lineup evolving in 2012?

Rob Sharenow: It’s a very exciting time
here. Since the merger [in which AETN
absorbed Lifetime in 2009] and since I
joined the company [from A&E in 2011],
the real headline is that our goal is to be
an all-original programming destination,
which is a real departure from Lifetime’s
history. In the past, Lifetime relied
very heavily on off-net acquisitions, but
going forward, we won’t. We’re really
trying to make this the first time ever our
primetime is comprised of nearly 100%
original content. The increase in original
hours, particularly in the nonfiction
space, has been staggering. We’ll have
over 300 hours of programming, compared
to [175 last year]. One of the things
that really distinguishes Lifetime is that
we’re what we call a triple-threat brand:
we do originals in three different categories
of programming — nonfiction, scripted
and original movies — and one of the
big headlines is that we’re looking to increase
in all of those areas. We’ll have 30 movie premieres
and four scripted series, so we’re really gunning on all cylinders
right now.

MCN: Why was it important for the network to move to an
all-originals lineup, considering that many of the top-rated
entertainment networks generate strong ratings from acquired
off-network fare?


RS: One of the real goals as a brand is to have a unique identity,
and I don’t think you can achieve that by having what we
call rented programming. When people have a cable channel
and you’re really known primarily for repeating old NBC,
CBS or ABC shows, I don’t think that’s good for your viewers,
advertisers or affiliates. Coming from where we come from
now, with the company being the way it is now, History is
100% original programming, A&E, I think, is 100% original
programming, and as the new third meganetwork
in the trio, I think we’re looking
to match that pattern. It’s most satisfying
when viewers come to the channel and
find things that they can only see on that
channel.

MCN: You mentioned the increase in nonfi
ction original programming. What type of
programming are you looking to develop
in the category?


RS: We’ve had a lot of success with Project
Runway
and Project Runway All-Stars, and
expanding that franchise has been a great
success for us. Dance Moms has also been
very successful for us — it’s grown from a
seed to a mega-show that we’re definitely
looking to build off of that as well, with
Dance Moms Miami, and we’re also in
development with Ice Moms, which has a
similar DNA.

We also have had a lot of success with a
lot of other nonfiction franchises including
American
Supernanny
,
Coming Home
and America’s
Most Wanted
, which we’re very
proud to get some business from
as well.

MCN: Why do you think gritty
and intense reality shows have
resonated with Lifetime viewers?

RS: Women are very complex
and desire lots of different programming.
With something
like America’s Most Wanted,
women love criminal justice programming and responded
well to John Walsh and his mission, which is to keep our
streets safe and find missing children. That really speaks to
the mothers in our audience, but I think women want different
things on different nights, so part of our strategy is
to reach viewers with a lot of different offerings. We’re not a
one-note channel and we’re not looking to be — I think a lot
of brands are known for one single thing, and I think it’s a
real strength for us to be able to offer different emotions and
different experiences on diff erent nights.

MCN: Is part of your reality series strategy to attract
younger female viewers?

RS: We certainly have gotten younger. In the past year, we’ve
decreased our median age by three years, and I think one of
the realities regarding the history of Lifetime since its origins
is that it was never a player in the reality field. We’ve really
looked to jump into it more aggressively and it is a young
[skewing] genre — much younger than scripted dramas. As
we add more reality and nonfiction content to our lineup,
we’ll naturally get younger.

MCN: Is the move also a recognition that your direct competitors
have has success within the genre?

RS: Look, nonfi ction comprises about 79% of all television,
so it’s not being competitive with anyone in particular but
with all television. I think we’re just trying to make Lifetime
competitive with everyone out there, not just our “women’s
brands” — this is what viewers are watching. In addition, we
have such strength in our scripted programming with Army
Wives
, which is the No. 1 scripted drama for women, along
with Drop Dead Diva. We’re also about to launch The Client
List
, so we have a lot of strength in that area, so adding reality
is just the next step.

MCN: You mentioned The Client
List
and, again, that’s a little
edgier that what we’re used to
seeing on Lifetime. Why do you
feel that show works for the
brand?


RS: It’s ironic. People ask me
that question, and I’m not sure
everyone realizes that The Client
List
actually was a Lifetime
movie, which was basically the
same story, starring Jennifer
Love Hewitt, that did extremely
well for us, which is why we were
so interested in it — we knew our viewers responded to it.
It’s the same characters and same basic structure, so we
kept a lot of those elements the same.

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