NEW YORK — Lifetime Television, pleased with the performance of its first spinoff channel, has plans to launch a new, reality-oriented network this summer.
The ad-supported Lifetime Real Women, set to bow in late July, will air a combination of new and returning original series, including the profile skein Intimate Portraits, The Things We Do For Love, Unsolved Mysteries
and films based on true stories.
Lifetime's latest on-air brand extension was announced at the company's upfront advertising presentation here last week.
"In looking to extend the Lifetime brand, we looked at our programming strengths," said executive vice president of entertainment Dawn Tarnofsky-Ostroff. "Viewers always enjoyed our movies, so we launched Lifetime Movie Network. Our reality-based shows also perform well; Lifetime Real Women is a natural step."
The 24-hour channel, which will offer two minutes of local ad sales per hour, would seek both analog and digital distribution.
Executive vice president of distribution and business development Louise Henry Bryson said Lifetime would begin pitching Lifetime Real Women to operators over the next month. The service has been incubated and subjected to testing and focus groups for the past eight months.
Bryson would not discuss rate-card specifics or pinpoint initial distribution goals for the new channel. Negotiations would be approached individually, she said.
"The deals will be based on the needs of the operators and what packages make sense," said Bryson.
She expressed confidence that combination of Lifetime's position as the highest-rated basic cable network in primetime during the first quarter, the momentum of LMN and the positioning of LRW would secure penetration for the new entry.
LMN averaged a 0.6 point rating in primetime during March within its current coverage area. Its subscriber base has tripled over the past year, to some 14 million cable and satellite homes, Bryson said.
The pickup in penetration for the film net, which debuted in July of 1998, came after its addition to DirecTV Inc.'s "Total Choice" package last July, as well as retransmission- consent deals struck by the Hearst-Argyle Station Group last year. (Lifetime is owned by Hearst-Argyle parent Hearst Corp. and The Walt Disney Co.)
LMN also is available on Dish Network's "America's Top 100" package and digital tiers offered by Time Warner Cable, AT&T Broadband, Cox Communications Inc., Charter Communications Inc. and Insight Communications Co.
The debut of LRW would coincide with the debut of Lifetime's second night of original programming on Saturdays. The "Real Women" block will begin Aug. 4 with the new original series Women Docs, a profile of heroic female physicians, and the returning Melissa Etheridge-hosted skein Beyond Chance, which tells compelling stories centered on twists of fate and coincidences.
Those shows — both of which will appear on LRW — will be joined by a third series in January, according to Tarnofsky-Ostroff.
Asked why Lifetime selected Saturday, television's lowest HUT (homes using television) period, to test a new night of originals, Tarnofsky-Ostroff said: "We think it is a good opportunity because there isn't a lot out there. Our weekend daytime ratings are our strong and we think the 'Real Women' block will benefit from the flow from Saturdays during the day and then lead well into Sundays for us. Beyond Chance
has performed well for us in Saturday night time slots."
All told, Lifetime — which on Sunday nights will return basic cable's three highest-rated original dramas, Strong Medicine, The Division
and Any Day Now
— will spend some $700 million for programming over the next two years, with more than half of that figure backing original productions.
Among the other newcomers is Lifetime Now, a half-hour, magazine-style talk show. The weekend program, set for the third quarter, will touch on issues ranging from fashion and finance to wellness and family, while also serving up conversations and opinions.
On the film front, Lifetime will air a dozen original movies during the 2001-02 season. Among the projects touted at the upfront were Their Last Chance
(working title), starring Ellen Burstyn and Laura Dern in the true story of a nun who helps transform prisoners' lives; and We Were the Mulvaneys, an adaptation of the Joyce Carol Oates bestseller.
As for the upfront market, executive vice president advertising sales Lynn Picard wasn't going out on any limbs.
"We'll do better," she said, stopping short of making any fixed forecasts.
Lifetime — coming off its industry-leading first-quarter ratings period and with the possibility of Hollywood strikes that could throw the female-skewing broadcast networks into a mode of extended repeats — would seem to be well positioned for this upfront.
"Logically, you would think that," Picard said. "But we won't know how the market's shaping up for a few more weeks.
"Third-quarter options are due May 1. That will be a psychological element as to how the market will shape up. We'll get a better read on things then."