Oxygen Takes Manhattan—Modestly

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New York-Geraldine Laybourne's Oxygen is finally getting a toehold in Manhattan now that RCN Corp. has agreed to roll out the fledgling women's network here.

RCN, which is already offering Oxygen in the New York City borough of Queens, will launch the network in Manhattan effective Aug. 1. It will initially be carried to 35,000 RCN subscribers, with an additional 35,000 added as the overbuilder converts those homes from microwave signals to fiber.

Although that's not a lot of households, it finally gives Oxygen entrée to the core of America's media and financial capital.

"We so excited to be in Manhattan," Oxygen senior vice president of affiliate sales Mary Murano said. "It's obviously the largest media market in the country, and it is very important for that particular reason."

When Oxygen debuted in February, officials said it had a deal with RCN for "limited distribution in New York City," apparently referring to Queens.

RCN is already offering Oxygen in Philadelphia and San Francisco, in addition to Queens, Murano said. And the overbuilder plans to launch the network in Los Angeles, she added.

Computer billionaire Paul Allen is an investor in both RCN and Oxygen, with his Vulcan Ventures Inc. pumping $1.65 billion into RCN and $100 million into Oxygen last year. So far, Oxygen has raised $300 million of the $450 million founder and CEO Laybourne is seeking for the business.

An RCN spokeswoman said its Queens system was new and, therefore, it had channel space available to accommodate Oxygen earlier this year. In contrast, channel space only recently opened up on RCN's Manhattan channel lineup, leaving a slot for Oxygen.

RCN will use Oxygen to replace Knowledge TV, which went black several months ago, on channel 62.

"Our understanding with Oxygen is that we will eventually offer it across all of the RCN channel lineups," the RCN spokeswoman said. "We think it's a smart service. It's very cutting-edge. And it fits in well with the urban markets we operate in."

In addition to RCN, Allen's Charter Communications Inc. cable systems are also launching Oxygen. Most recently, the MSO rolled out the network to 100,000 subscribers in Glendale-Burbank, Calif., and on its system in Madison, Wis.

And Cox Communications Inc. just added Oxygen in its Phoenix system.

The women's network is still talking with Time Warner Cable, the dominant cable operator in Manhattan, about obtaining carriage, according to Murano. Oxygen also does not yet have a distribution deal with the other big cable operator in New York City, Cablevision Systems Corp.

Oxgyen now has more than 10 million subscribers, with total commitments for 30 million by the end of 2002.

The network's launch has had its bumps. In June, it put two shows on hiatus and shut down two of its Web sites. But the programming service now has some other irons in the fire.

Oxygen, which posted almost $20 million in the ad-sales upfront, will soon debut a new multimillion-dollar Web site, Shop O2, which will offer "shopping solutions" for consumers. The site will be tied in with one of Oxygen's existing TV shows.

In addition, the network is now in its pilot season, aiming to green-light a few ideas for primetime pilots soon.

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