WE TV will move into the original-movie arena in 2009, part of a continuing original-programming strategy developed under newly promoted network president Kim Martin.
Martin, who had been WE TV’s executive vice president and general manager, also is looking to build on a successful slate of original reality series including Bridezillas and freshman breakout The Locator, which WE just renewed for a second season.
“This has been the best year in terms of the successes of the network and that has come from our strategy of focusing on original programming,” said Martin, who joined the nearly 72 million-subscriber network in 2004.
The Rainbow Media Holdings outlet claimed 269,000 total viewers in primetime during the second quarter of 2008, up 48% over 182,000 in the same period in 2007, citing Nielsen Media Research figures.
It still trails main rivals Oxygen, which averaged 386,000 primetime viewers in the second quarter, and leader Lifetime, with 1.5 million viewers.
WE, though, claimed significant gains in key female demographics for the quarter, including women 18 to 49 (108,000 vs. 65,000), 25 to 54 (98,000 vs. 65,000) and 18 to 34 (55,000 vs. 29,000).
In the third quarter (through Sept. 21), WE has averaged 272,000 viewers, up 33% over 205,000 in the same period a year ago.
WE has been helped by original series, including staple marriage-themed reality series Bridezillas and freshman series High School Reunion.
Women have been drawn to newcomer The Locator, about families searching for lost loved ones. The two-part Sept. 6 premiere averaged a combined 1.3 million viewers. Through four episodes, the series is averaging 742,000 viewers. Martin’s ordered another 14 episodes, to begin airing in 2009.
“That series has really resonated with our audiences,” she said. “We see that series as making an emotional connection with women, and we have a lot of shows that do that.”
Martin said WE will, for the first time, commission at least two original films. She recently hired former USA Network and Lifetime movie executive Laurette Hayden with an eye to add original flicks to the mix sometime next year.
Despite Lifetime’s dominant role in women’s TV movies — on the flagship channel and Lifetime Movie Network — Martin said she thinks “movies have a lot of potential for WE. We’ll try a movie or two and see how it goes — we hired an expert in that arena and we feel confident she will do a great job.”
Some of WE’s new original series are about offbeat topics. Sex Change Hospital, coming this fall, is about a transgender surgeon who performs sex-change operations in a Colorado hospital. Little Miss Perfect follows a group of 5-to-7-year-olds and their mothers as they travel the beauty-pageant circuit.
“We really try to provide a really smart view of life,” Martin said. “Our viewers want to be entertained but they want to walk away having watched WE feeling that they watched something that was fascinating and that they haven’t seen on other networks, and really at times can educate them about other people around the other country.”