After long lamenting the lack of programming for women,
former Nickelodeon chief Geraldine Laybourne is making her move and, with the initial
support of Tele-Communications Inc., launching her own cable network for females.
Laybourne is partnering with primetime producer Marcy
Carsey and her Carsey-Werner Co. production business to form a broad-based women's
channel, sources familiar with her plans said.
The network, sources said, will contain both nonfiction and
fiction programming, and it may wind up being dubbed "Oxygen," after
Laybourne's own company, Oxygen Media.
Laybourne declined to comment last week, and Carsey-Werner
couldn't be reached for comment.
It remains unclear when Laybourne's channel would
launch. Currently, only three cable networks specifically target women: Lifetime
Television, Romance Classics and Spanish-language Gems Television.
The biggest hurdle that any new programming service faces
is getting distribution, and Laybourne's women's network has already made a big
inroad: She is in the final stages of reaching a carriage agreement for her new network
with TCI, an MSO spokeswoman confirmed last Friday.
"We are in discussions with Oxygen," the
spokeswoman said. "They have an extremely compelling approach, as well as being
headed by Gerry Laybourne."
That affiliation agreement would cover both analog and
digital carriage, according to the TCI spokeswoman. However, it is expected that the
women's channel will mainly get analog carriage at TCI systems that have completed
While several published reports last Friday said TCI had
agreed to carry the new women's channel in all 10 million of its homes, the carriage
deal actually only covers a few million homes, according to sources. The TCI spokeswoman
declined to comment.
TCI president and chief operating officer Leo J. Hindery
Jr. is a big supporter of Laybourne, and he has acknowledged in the past that women are
vastly underserved by cable.
It is also expected that Liberty Media Group will take an
ownership stake in Laybourne's new channel. When the merger of AT&T Corp. and TCI
is completed, Liberty will have $5 billion in cash to invest in programming ventures.
From the get-go, Laybourne said Oxygen Media would look to
eventually create a cable network with the financial backing of cable operators.
Even if Laybourne gets her affiliation deal with TCI, she
will need the support of a lot more MSOs in order for her women's channel to succeed.
But she is popular and respected among cable operators.
Laybourne, who most recently ran Disney/ABC Cable Networks,
formed Oxygen Media in May. With The Walt Disney Co.'s ABC Inc. and America Online
Inc. as investors, Oxygen Media's mission was to create online and television content
for kids and women.
Last month, Oxygen Media acquired three of AOL's Web
sites for women, and she's made it clear that she plans to closely tie Internet
content to traditional TV programming.
According to The Los Angeles Times, Laybourne is
telling cable operators that $75 million will be invested in original programming during
the new channel's first year, and that it would eventually air Carsey-Werner sitcoms
Carsey-Werner's hits have included The Bill Cosby
Show, Roseanne and 3rd Rock from the Sun.
When she was at Disney/ABC Cable, Laybourne oversaw the
company's stake in Lifetime, the major network for women that her new service will
"I look forward to seeing the programming,"
Lifetime president Doug McCormick said, referring to Laybourne's new channel.
"We have been the first to say that women are underrepresented out there."
In a recent interview on CNBC, Laybourne was asked if she
thought that Lifetime "was doing a decent job."
Laybourne answered, "I think in many ways that
Lifetime does a fine job for a certain segment of the audience. It's an older
demographic, and it's a demographic that wants to escape."
Kate McEnroe, president of AMC Networks, said she's
glad to see another women's service enter the arena with her Romance Classics.
"It's good that the industry is waking up,"
McEnroe said. "Now, there are women in authority and power who can get channels