New York -- With life in the women's niche looking more and
more like the fast lane, officials at Romance Classics plan to soon relaunch the network
under a new name.
Romance had discussed a potential name changed with cable
operators last fall, Multichannel News reported, but network executives have not
confirmed plans for a new brand until recently. The announcement of the new name is
planned within a couple of months, said Kate McEnroe, president of Romance and American
Movie Classics, two networks owned by Cablevision Systems Inc.'s Rainbow Media Holdings
Inc. programming unit.
"We're relaunching the network, moving away from a
Romance category into entertainment for women that provides an oasis," McEnroe said.
The move is not a direct response to new competition from Oxygen or programming
initiatives from Lifetime Television, McEnroe added, but rather an "evolution of the
McEnroe wouldn't discuss what the new brand will be, or
whether the company has settled on a name. But she said it would not be called Romantic TV
-- a new moniker the company reportedly considered last year.
The flagship series for the new network will be the
hosted-movie series Cinematherapy, which premiered on Romance in January. The
company plans to spend $6 million to $8 million in on a marketing campaign for the series,
including a tour with single-named hosts Kate and Jessie, probably beginning in June,
Four other entertainment-type programs recently announced
by Romance will also appear on the new network. The company will also unveil five
additional new series and six one-hour specials later this year, McEnroe said.
As Rainbow fine-tunes its plans for Romance's relaunch, it
also may be considering selling part or all of the network to another company. Both USA
Networks Inc. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. were believed to be considering buying Romance
and other Rainbow assets last year.
McEnroe ruled out Barry Diller's USA Networks Inc. as a
potential buyer, but would not say if the company might strike a deal with another suitor.
"Discussions kind of come and go, and you can't let
that rule where you're going with your brand," McEnroe said.
The current concept "is really more in the AMC Family,
and not where the Romance brand is going," McEnroe said. She likened the new strategy
to when Movietime revamped its programming lineup and re-launched as E! Entertainment
Television in 1990.
Former E! president Lee Masters recalled last week that
"people thought it was a horrible mistake" when the network first considered a
new brand, but that the name, coupled with new programming, helped drive the network's
"If the content had not been there and had the
marketing not been there, it would not have worked. A name change by itself doesn't do
anything if it can't be tied back to the product," Liberty Digital president Masters
said. He expects McEnroe and Rainbow executives to be successful with the relaunch, he
Romance counts 21 million subscribers, mostly on
analog-basic tiers. But McEnroe said she expects that most future growth will come from
digital distribution. The channel is distributed digitally by AT&T Broadband &
Internet Service's Headend In The Sky platform, and Romance is in talks with Time Warner
Cable for carriage on the company's AthenaTV digital platform, she said.
Word from Romance executives of a coming name change helped
MediaOne agree to launch the channel to 3 million subscribers last year, senior vice
president of video Judi Allen said.
"We actually made a fairly large commitment to Romance
last year because they came in and told the story of the channel that they wanted to
evolve to," she said.
Romance, which currently doesn't carry advertising,
announced plans in 1998 to switch to an ad-supported format in fall 1999. Although McEnroe
said she thinks Romance could at present pull in at least $20 million in annual ad revenue
were it ad-supported, she said those plans are on hold until the network signs at least 28
to 30 million subscribers.
"It's really important in the life of a new network
not to get confused about the advertising dollars and the brand," McEnroe said.
"It would be really easy to throw something on just to get the ratings, but it may
not define the brand you're trying to build."