In Depth

Lifetime Grabs Headlines, Ratings

‘Project Runway’ Acquisition Puts Top-Rated Women’s Network in Glare of Spotlight

There was more news from the Lifetime Networks upfront than the acquisition of “Project Runway” from Bravo. In some ways, adding “Project Runway” is a feather in the cap for a cable channel that is already the leader in the industry with a broad reach, especially to women.

“We’re in 96 million homes,” said Susanne Daniels, president of entertainment for Lifetime Networks. “Lifetime Movie Network is in 65 million homes. It’s the second-highest-rated women’s network. We have doubled the ratings of WE on LMN. It outrates Bravo and TLC. LMN is second only to Lifetime.”

With that kind of success, looking to the year ahead, Ms. Daniels first reflected on the past. “When I got to the network it felt a little stale to me, but we’re really seeing a shift in Lifetime,” she said. “I think [with] all the work that’s been done in all the different arenas of the network the last few years, including digital and new marketing and the new programming, this network is firing on all cylinders. I think we can be the No. 1 cable network for women in all genres. I am very excited about the prospects for this network in the future.”

The coup for Lifetime was grabbing Bravo’s Peabody and Emmy winner “Project Runway.” “We will start to air our first season in November,” said Ms. Daniels. “We know for certain that Heidi (Klum) and Tim (Gunn) are returning. We would love to see the judges back, Michael Kors and Nina Garcia. That’s a little bit up in the air, but we’re working on that.” The show will look and feel very much like it did on Bravo; it will be airing in the same time slot, the same day of the week.

Going along with “Project Runway” will be a sister show called “Models of the Runway,” “a half-hour docu-show that talks about what just happened on ‘Runway’ from the perspective of the models,” said Ms. Daniels.

Another show that Lifetime is very high on is the return of “How to Look Good Naked” with Carson Kressley. “It premiered to the highest numbers for a reality show ever on Lifetime, and we feel it’s a really good brand fit,” she said. “We love Carson and love that the show is about internal as well as external makeovers. It makes women feel good about themselves however they look, whatever size they are.”

That show, which is based on a British format that has been running for four years, will see some changes in 2008. “We’re taking it out of the studio. We’re making it a one-hour show instead of a 30-minute show. Carson is going to crisscross the country with home visits. We’re going to have new rotating experts. Sometimes these shows take a little time to grow. TLC has a hit with ‘Jon and Kate Plus 8’ that really didn’t break out until late in the second season or early in its third season. So I’m excited about where that show’s going.”

In the upfronts that Lifetime has been doing with ad agencies, the enthusiasm they’ve shown has been coming back from advertisers. “They’ve been very receptive. We’ve had wonderful meetings and they’re asking really good questions. We’ve heard and seen a lot of enthusiasm from advertisers so far,” said Ms. Daniels.

If there is a fly in the ointment for Lifetime, it’s overcoming the perception that somehow the Big Four broadcast networks are a better buy for advertisers. “The main challenge is that you have to work a little bit harder in cable to sell yourself and sell the significance of the impact you can have with cable to advertisers,” said Ms. Daniels. “There’s still a sense that broadcast network television is a slam-dunk to certain advertisers. With cable you have to do a little bit more, giving a raison d’etre for advertisers to make the leap with you. You’re really out there selling your shows and your network and your brand, if you’re smart.”

Lifetime is a slam-dunk when it comes to reaching women, and that’s something the network has really sold to advertisers. “Women have a lot of trust in Lifetime. It’s a television brand where women can find programming that will allow them to escape and allow them to be entertained. It’s a very diverse brand in that they can come to Lifetime Movie Network for the movies they love, 24-7,” said Ms. Daniels. “They can come to Lifetime this fall when we start to strip shows like ‘Desperate Housewives’ and ‘Wife Swap.’ Viewers tell us that they love our comedies, our movies, ‘Army Wives.’ I would argue that more people identify ‘Reba’ and ‘Will & Grace’ with our network now than with the networks that launched them. And I was at the WB when ‘Reba’ launched!”

The Lifetime reach extends to multiple platforms as well. “We want to be everywhere a woman wants us to be. Our goal is to expand our leadership position as a media company offering consistent programming across multiple platforms,” said Ms. Daniels. “MyLifetime.com is where viewers go for gaming, chat rooms and community. Lifetime is a trusted brand because it offers women a lot. We are growing our digital content and we are looking into mobile expansion, too.

“I think the most important thing is that we have a very strong brand with really strong content,” she added. “When you know you’re delivering that and delivering reach, then you can start to monetize your advertisers that way.”

For all of Lifetime’s success, Ms. Daniels isn’t resting on the network’s laurels. She wants to see stars in Lifetime movies, and the upfront lineup boasts a roster that includes Oscar winners Tatum O’Neal and Shirley MacLaine.

“That’s really important to me, attracting the right stars to our movies,” Ms. Daniels said. “I’m the first one to acknowledge that in the past there’s been a little bit of perception that a Lifetime movie equals a woman-in-peril movie, and people put that genre in a box. We’re breaking out of that box.

“We’re doing these red-carpet movie events, and we believe a Lifetime movie is every bit as good as an HBO film. Our movies get nominated for Emmys and Golden Globes, and they win a few. We are going after that. I am thrilled to have Kelly Preston and Ron Eldard in ‘The Tenth Circle’ and Shirley MacLaine coming up as Coco Chanel next September. I’m really going after these stars.”