Does Cable Serve Women Viewers?

Author:
Publish date:

The cable lineup is a man's world. Even some top male
brass in cable have bemoaned the lack of services targeted toward women.

Out of dozens of cable networks -- with channels dedicated
to such narrow niches as animals, golf and racing -- the number that position themselves
as targeted toward women can fit on one hand: Lifetime Television, Romance Classics and
Spanish-language Gems Television. A fourth, spinoff Lifetime Movie Network, debuts June
29.

So as regional-sports channels and news channels sprout up
like mushrooms, the women's market remains woefully underserved, according to some
programmers and cable operators.

At least that's the position that Tele-Communications
Inc. president and chief operating officer Leo J. Hindery Jr. has taken, as has former
Nickelodeon chief Geraldine Laybourne, who just left her slot as president of Disney/ABC
Cable Networks to create her own TV-Internet-production business.

"The fact that there is only one widely distributed
network for women [Lifetime] is ridiculous," Laybourne said. "One of the reasons
why I am starting up my own company is that I want to address the needs of modern
women."

Veteran programmer Pat Mitchell, president of CNN
Productions/Time Inc. Television, agreed with Laybourne.

"I'm frankly stunned at this industry,"
Mitchell said. "This [women] is a niche waiting to be filled."

But other top network and MSO officials disagreed. They
maintained that women -- a very broad and nonhomogenous group -- don't need or want
more networks specifically aimed at them. In fact, some programmers, including Nickelodeon
general manager Cyma Zarghami, voiced strong concerns about the creation of women-targeted
networks, fearing that they might help to perpetuate sexual stereotypes.

"There aren't any networks specifically targeted
toward men," Zarghami said, noting as an example that women watch sports channels. In
fact, on average, 30 percent of ESPN's primetime audience is made up of women.

Bob Wilson, vice president of programming at Cox
Communications Inc., doesn't sense any consumer demand for more women's
networks. Wilson and others said females are served by existing programming services,
whether or not those networks specifically tag themselves as aimed at women.

Some of the arguments against, and qualms expressed about,
creating more women's-oriented networks reminded Laybourne of her experience at MTV
Networks and Nick when she tried to research whether a network dedicated to children would
work.

In focus groups with children, kids said they didn't
want their own network, she recalled. They said they were more than happy to watch fare
such as Starsky and Hutch, and they didn't need a 24-hour kids' outlet.
The problem is that consumers -- children or otherwise -- sometimes can't articulate
what their needs and wants really are, she said.

So despite the unencouraging results from the initial
kids' focus groups, today, programming giants from Viacom Inc. to Fox to The Walt
Disney Co. have successful kids' networks, Laybourne noted.

"There are huge companies making pretty huge
investments for kids," Laybourne said. "And kids are richer for it."

Kate McEnroe, president of Romance, as well as American
Movie Classics, has her own theory about why more female-targeted networks haven't
emerged, while there are dozens of sports channels.

"For the first 10 years of the cable industry, from
1980 to 1990, most of the people empowered to make programming decisions were male,"
she said. "And it's easier to pick programming that you know: sports and news.
The challenge has been to make men realize that Lifetime is one niche network."

ONE IS ENOUGH

On her calls to MSOs about Romance, which currently reaches
13 million homes, McEnroe said she is sometimes told, "We have Lifetime --
that's enough."

One operator actually said that since Romance touts itself
as an escape for women, he was afraid that it might drive the divorce rate up by prompting
women to escape from their everyday lives, McEnroe said.

Mitchell said she walks the convention floor at every
National Show, looking to see if there are any new networks being launched for women, and
she sees none. There's a network for animal lovers, one for golf lovers and a flock
of sports networks, but no network dedicated to providing information and service-oriented
programming for women, she noted.

Yet on magazine stands, Mitchell added, there are droves of
women's magazines on topics such as finance, careers, cooking, health, relationships,
parenting, fashion, home decorating and beauty.

Like Mitchell, Laybourne sees a void in women's
programming in several areas.

"Lifetime is doing a good job with entertainment
programming for women who are 35-plus," she said, "but there is a huge
opportunity to try to do what Nickelodeon does for kids."

LIFETIME VS. ROMANCE?

Lifetime president Doug McCormick acknowledged that his
service, reaching 72 million homes, "holds up the mantle" in terms of
women's networks.

"There should be more, and we should start them,"
he added, referring to Lifetime Movie, a likely digital network, which, he said, will
create more space on the dial for women.

Some carriage deals have been signed for the new movie
network, according to McCormick, who added that he wasn't ready to announce them yet.
But he did project that Lifetime Movie will be in 3 million homes by the end of the year.

In a somewhat ironic turn, in some cases, Lifetime Movie
and Romance will be competing against each other for carriage. Linda Stuchell, vice
president of programming for Harron Communications Corp., carries Romance on systems with
100,000 subscribers. She is also talking to Lifetime about its new network, and she
questioned whether she has the space to carry two women-oriented movie networks on analog.

"We'll be making some choices," Stuchell
said.

Pam Burton, director of marketing at Prime Cable, said
she's waiting to see if Romance will live up to its promise and make an impression,
in terms of ratings. Whether or not a new network targeted toward women will fly depends
on the execution, she added.

"I guess some people would think that by being a
woman, you'd automatically want more genre-specific-with-gender programming,"
she said. "But for the most part, you have to evaluate it on its content."

ARE THEY

BEING SERVED?

In contrast to Laybourne, a number of programmers said they
believe that women are being well-served by cable now, through niche services such as Food
Network, Home & Garden Television and Encore Love Stories, as well as through broad
entertainment networks.

"I'm not sure that networks targeted to women is
the way to go," MTV: Music Television president Judy McGrath said.

MTV serves a young-adult audience, and it programs for both
genders, she said. Its animated hit, Daria, which features a strong female
character, was created by a woman, McGrath pointed out, and its on-air talent includes
role models such as Tabitha Sorenson.

At Nickelodeon, the programming mantra is to produce good
stories with strong characters that, by virtue of their quality, will appeal to both
genders, Zarghami said. As a result, Nick's audience breaks down roughly 50-50
between boys and girls.

A&E Network, which is more focused on its content than
its audience, doesn't air a program with the idea that it will skew toward women,
according to general manager Brooke Bailey Johnson.

"We're glad that we put on Pride and Prejudice,"
she said. "But we weren't thinking, 'This is a good thing to put on for
women.'"

According to Johnson, "It is kind of surprising that
you have more networks targeting children and men than women. But I don't know if
I'd say that there should be more women's networks."

Cartoon Network president Betty Cohen said cable channels
have to be targeted to women -- one-half of the population -- to be successful in getting
ratings, even if they don't overtly position themselves as "women's
networks."

Gems, reaching 5.5 million U.S. homes, carries
informational programming on topics such as cooking and health; entertainment such as
movies and novellas; and empowerment shows on successful women, said president Gary
McBride.

"Look at the difficulty of defining a women's
network," he said. "You need to find a common denominator but recognize the
diverse interests of your audience."

Food's prime demographic is women, but it doesn't
limit itself to them, and it deliberately tries to draw male viewers by featuring chefs
such as Emeril Lagasse, said Erica Gruen, the network's president.

"Food Network, as much as anyone, is a network for
women, but that's not our positioning," Gruen said.

There is plenty of TV programming for women now, she added.

"Women watch movies," Gruen said. "Women
watch game shows. Just because a network doesn't talk about women's issues
doesn't mean that women are underserved ... Most networks do target women. If women
watch, then they're successfully targeting women."

But Mitchell said she thinks that's the reason why
Food and HGTV -- which also doesn't present itself as a women's network -- are
booming.

"That's why they've grown so fast,"
Mitchell said. "They're strongly targeted women's networks."

In contrast, Zarghami argued that both networks are growing
rapidly because they appeal to men and women.

In addition to Lifetime Movie, there are several other
cable networks in the works that would tend to attract a large share of female viewers.
ABC is testing a proposed 24-hour soap-opera channel that would be targeted toward women,
but it is too early to know if it will be positioned as a women's network.

And this fall, E! Entertainment Television will debut
Style, a fashion-, design- and style-oriented programming service. But E! president Lee
Masters said Style won't be marketed as a women's network.

"We don't want to be exclusionary," Masters
said, "but we think that it will skew heavily female, and that's a wonderful
opportunity."

He added that he has started to hear some MSOs talk about
creating tiers of female-oriented programming.

Cable operators should be more concerned about targeting
women viewers, who handle 80 percent of the household bills, McEnroe said. And according
to Gruen, while men tend to decide which cable services to subscribe to, women decide what
should be dropped, so they are important to reach, in terms of retention.

Related