Affirming a Niche

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Lifetime Television will commemorate its 20th anniversary this year. For Lynn Picard, a key turning point for the network came early during her tenure at the women's-targeted service.

"It was late 1994, early in 1995. We were talking about incorporating the tagline 'television for women,' and as lead sales person, I said we had to put our stake in the ground and create that positioning," she recalled. "We needed to affirm our niche, which what was cable was doing then and still succeeds with today."

Picard has succeeded as well.

Last June, Picard, who had been executive vice president, sales, Lifetime Entertainment Services since August 1999, became the network's first-ever general manager.

While she continues to oversee ad sales for Lifetime, spinoff networks Lifetime Movie Network and Lifetime Real Women, lifetimetv.com and Lifetime magazine, she also is now responsible for day-to-day management of the flagship network. That gives her an active voice in shaping some programming decisions.

"The creative process has been the most challenging for me," she said. "I'm reading scripts for movies and series now. I never thought of myself as a creative type, but you voice your opinion about things from a viewer's perspective. You need to make sure that they are represented and respected."

Aside from embracing the challenges of her new job, Picard, 45, also enjoyed last year for other reasons: She said that 2003 marked the highest profits and revenues in the history of the network, a joint venture of Hearst Corp. and The Walt Disney Co.

She attributes much of the network's success to its leadership and team. "[President and CEO] Carol [Black] is great to work with. We have a great relationship, and people here enjoy working with her."

AGENCY ROOTS

Picard's career path began with agencies. She worked as a spot buyer and supervisor at HBM/Creamer from 1980 to 1982. She then advanced from media planner to vice president, national broadcast over a six-year span at Della Femina McNamee.

She said her experiences on the shop side prepared her for the switch to the other end of the negotiating table. "I knew what it took to get deals done, what clients and agencies wanted," she said. "It made for an easy transition."

The change took place in 1989 when Picard jumped to ESPN as an account executive.

Her interest in sports played well. A Pittsburgh native, she names the late Pirates, rightfielder Roberto Clemente, as well as Steelers football legends Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann, Franco Harris and Mean Joe Greene as athletes she admired growing up.

JUMPS FROM SPORTS NET

Lifetime came into her life in 1994, when she was named the network's senior vice president, ad sales. The switch to pitching units in telefilms and shows about women's health issues, as opposed to a network where programming centering on tackling and batting averages reigned, wasn't as tough as one might think.

"I didn't realize it at the time, but ESPN prepared me for Lifetime," she explained. "At ESPN, men loved us. At Lifetime, women put their trust in us and love us. The networks and the eyeballs they attract were/are diametrically opposed, yet similar."

Under her leadership, Lifetime's ad sales have trebled. "We have a unique place in the market; our relationship with women distinguishes us from competition in cable and broadcast," she said.

That point was driven home indelibly for Picard by a brand study conducted by Knowledge Networks & Statistical Research in 2000. "It found that Lifetime was the No. 1 for women out of hundreds of brands. Not just media, but all brands. It was a big 'wow' that really validated what we do."

In her view, the Lifetime brand still resonates within today's even more competitive arena. "It's a one-television world: Viewers don't discriminate between broadcast and cable," she said. "They want to watch what appeals to them. We appeal to women and they trust us."

RATINGS CHALLENGE

Looking ahead, Picard said Lifetime's biggest challenge in 2004, not surprisingly, is engineering a ratings rebound. Although the network continued to lead with distaff demos, its household mark fell 15% to a 1.7 in 2003, as Lifetime's two-year reign as basic-cable ratings queen came to an end. "We want to get the ratings back up a bit, but that's everybody's challenge I guess," Picard noted.

Picard said Lifetime will "continue to do what we do well. We're known for our dramas and that still will be reflected in our series and movies. But women are telling us that they need to relax a bit more," said Picard, hinting that some lighter fare may be in the offing. "We'll change our mix a bit in 2004."

Perhaps as a harbinger of more of that scheduling to come, Lifetime ordered second seasons of newlywed design series Merge and makeover show Head 2 Toe.

On the ad front, Picard sees all indicators pointing toward a good year in 2004. "For the second year running, cable had a higher share of market than broadcast. The money is shifting slowly behind that. The economy seems to be taking hold," she said. "Hopefully, it will be another record year in the upfront for cable and Lifetime as well."

TIME TO RELAX

Picard lives with her husband in Manhattan during the week. But on weekends, the couple can be found in East Hampton, where they bought a home in 1995. "We go all-year round. We have a lot of friends there."

So what's the attraction. The beaches? The fishing? The boating? The celebrity-gazing?

"It's just the living; it's beautiful," she said, adding that winter is her favorite time. "All the stores and restaurants are open. There's more solitude and it's more relaxing."

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