Lifetime Television has bigger expectations this year, in
terms of ratings, for its Friday-night airings of Women's National Basketball
Association games, according to network officials.
Lifetime, which has invested more than $3 million to expand
into women's-sports programming, kicked off its second season of WNBA coverage last
The network is projecting that its games will average a 0.8
rating in primetime, according to Brian Donlon, vice president of Lifetime Sports. That
would be an increase over last year, when the games averaged a 0.6, or roughly 360,000
homes, he added.
"It is very hard," Donlon said, referring to
efforts to drum up viewers for the games during Friday primetime. He pointed out that on
Friday evenings in the summer, some of Lifetime's prospective viewers are on their
way out of their homes to spend weekends at the beach, for example.
"You do have lower HUTs [households using television]
on Friday nights in the summer," Donlon said. "That is the challenge in front of
During a conference call with the press, Donlon and some of
the on-air talent hosting the WNBA games said Lifetime's coverage stresses the
personalities of the players, and not statistics, like traditional sports play-by-play.
"We like to take the approach of telling stories about
these people," said Meghan Pattyson, a co-analyst for Lifetime and former University
of Connecticut coach and player.
When a reporter asked if taking that kind of approach to
sports coverage was in any way condescending to women, Donlon said no. He noted that the
WNBA is trying to build stars and to attract new viewers without turning off the current
"We're trying to design a broadcast that is
enjoyable for new viewers, while also retaining our old audience," Donlon said.
"We don't think that we are condescending ... For our audience, it's
important that they know who the players are."
Lifetime's senior production team for the WNBA is
entirely made up of women, he noted.
"We didn't set out to hire a female production
crew," Donlon said. "We set out to find the best that we could."
Lifetime, which signed a six-year deal with the WNBA, will
telecast 12 games this year. The WNBA package is part of Lifetime's diversification
into sports programming. The network will air 51 hours of women's sports this year,
compared with one hour in 1996.