New Chief Sees Upside at Lifetime

Apr 30, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Andrea Wong, the new president and CEO of Lifetime Entertainment Services, doesn’t plan to make waves yet.

Ms. Wong, previously executive VP of alternative programming, specials and late night at ABC Entertainment, replaced Betty Cohen, who wore out her welcome after two years.

In 2006, Lifetime’s ratings, revenues and earnings all fell, thanks in part to a nasty fight with EchoStar Communications that left the Lifetime channels off of Dish Network for a month. The battle also left Lifetime in a legal battle with DirecTV over a promotion that was aborted when Lifetime and EchoStar came to terms.

Ms. Cohen’s decision-making and leadership abilities came under question, leading to her departure with a year left on her contract.

But in an interview with TelevisionWeek last week, Ms. Wong preferred to look at the positives for Lifetime, once the top-rated cable network overall, but now ranked fifth among ad-supported cable networks in total prime-time viewers.

“There is a huge upside opportunity to broaden and evolve the network to appeal to a whole group of women out there that are not viewers right now that we can capture,” she said, adding that the network’s upfront presentation to advertisers had gone well and that the sales staff, headed by Lynn Picard, was “fantastic.”

Ms. Wong also said she’s excited about the dramas Lifetime will be launching over the summer.

Those programs were developed by programming head Susanne Daniels, brought in by Ms. Cohen from the WB. While few of Ms. Daniels’ programs at Lifetime have stuck so far, Ms. Wong said she was excited to work with Ms. Daniels.

“I think she’s really, really talented,” Ms. Wong said. “The network is lucky to have her.”

Ms. Wong said she’s been a Lifetime viewer, watching mainly its signature movies and its reality show “How Clean Is Your House?”

She said she’s seen one of the channel’s new shows, “Army Wives,” but hadn’t yet watched the other two summer programs, `”‘Side Order of Life” and “State of Mind.”

With the new shows coming online, Ms. Wong said her top priority was to find a head of marketing. Martha Pease, an ad agency exec hired by Ms. Cohen to run marketing, left the company earlier this year.

Lifetime is owned by the Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp. Disney didn’t have to go far to find a replacement for Ms. Cohen.

Ms. Wong said she was approached for the job by Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney-ABC Television Group, but she wouldn’t say precisely when. “It all happened quickly,” she said.

And while she said she’s going to be spending “an enormous amount of time” in New York, she wouldn’t say she was moving east, which in the past has been one of Hearst’s requirements. “Clearly there’s some work to be done in L.A. as well.”

Ms. Wong said she will be looking to push the network more aggressively on the Web. “We’ve got a strong opportunity on the digital side to expand the brand beyond just television so that Lifetime is everywhere a woman could want it to be,” she said.

But with her background in programming, some wonder how she and Ms. Daniels will co-exist. “Betty was very hands-off and more focused on strategy and new media,” said one industry executive familiar with the situation. “Andrea will want to be more involved.”