Time Warner Inc.'s proposed women's network could be a
smoke screen to gain an equity position in the upstart Oxygen network, according to
Sources at Time Warner-owned Turner Broadcasting System
Inc. would not confirm nor deny published reports that the company is planning a
competitor to Lifetime Television and upstart Oxygen Media.
But one company executive who wished to remain anonymous
said it wouldn't surprise him if Ted Turner, vice chairman of Time Warner, went after the
potentially lucrative female audience.
"This is what [Turner] does -- start new
networks," the source said. "I would be surprised if it wasn't true, and it's
one area where Turner does not have a presence.
One top 10 MSO executive, who wished to remain anonymous,
suggested that the Time Warner network is a ploy to eventually get an equity stake in
Oxygen, which currently lacks the financial backing of any MSOs or huge cable-programming
"Time Warner certainly could provide Oxygen with an
instant programming and marketing vehicle that would allow it to relax its licensing fees
down the line and make it more acceptable to operators," the executive said.
Thus far, operators have not embraced Oxygen, which is
being run by Geraldine Laybourne, Oprah Winfrey and Marcy Carsey. This has left some
industry observers to believe that another competing service could slip in.
Oxygen, which said it will offer "modest" launch
fees of 19 cents to 25 cents per subscriber, has inked only one carriage deal, with
AT&T Broadband & Internet Services (formerly Tele-Communications Inc.).
But that deal is incumbent on the network reaching deals
with other MSOs to secure carriage in at least 5 million homes.
If Turner does launch a competing network, it will be very
difficult for Oxygen to sign
Time Warner's more than 12 million subscribers.
"Oxygen is really struggling because it's really
difficult to convince people to launch a basic service in today's marketplace at such as
healthy rate," one top 10 MSO executive said. "But if Time Warner is looking to
do the same thing with rates, I'm not sure that it's such a great idea for them,
Representatives from Oxygen Media did not return calls
In related news, Oxygen named former Nickelodeon and CBS
Cable executive Geoffrey Darby as its president of production.
Darby will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of
Oxygen's cable network and its integration with Oxygen's online properties, the company
Darby most recently was executive vice president of CBS
Cable and president of CBS Eye on People, which CBS sold to Discovery Communications Inc.
In addition, he served as president of Viacom Interactive
Services during his 11-year stint at Viacom Inc., which also included a period as senior
vice president of programming and production at Nickelodeon, where he worked for