NBC Takes Breath After Oxygen Buy

Nov 25, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Top executives of Oxygen Media’s advertising sales staff may survive being acquired by NBC Universal.
NBCU completed the $875 million acquisition of Oxygen last week. Al­ready several top Oxygen executives, led by founder Geraldine Laybourne and president of programming and marketing Debby Beece, have announced plans to leave.
Another Oxygen founder, President and Chief Operating Officer Lisa Gersh, will stay with the network for three months, then move to a new job at NBC Universal.
While NBC Universal has identified $35 million in revenue and cost synergies, NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Gaspin, who heads the company’s cable group, and Bravo Media President Lauren Zalaznick, named by Mr. Gaspin to oversee Oxygen, plan to move carefully while eliminating more Oxygen staffers over the next few weeks.
“As an independent network, I think they had the right number of people,” Mr. Gaspin said. But as part of a larger cable network group, there will be some downsizing in some centralized areas, he added.
“Something we’ve learned from past integrations is sometimes you can over-integrate, and so you have to be careful about not doing that as well,” Mr. Gaspin said. “So we have to spend some more time with the folks and figure out what the best structure and what the best plan is.”
Since plans to acquire Oxygen were announced in October. Mr. Gaspin has been reviewing its operations. He was impressed by both the ad sales and affiliate sales teams at Oxygen, two areas that often face the ax after an ownership change.
Ms. Zalaznick said there were no plans to have Bravo’s ad sales chief, Susan Malfa, run things for Oxygen.
Instead, Mr. Gaspin said NBC would like Mary Jeanne (MJ) Cavanagh, Oxygen’s executive VP of ad sales, to stay on.
NBCU has been looking to make Oxygen part of a virtual women’s network, packaged for advertisers with upscale female viewers from Bravo, the “Today” show and online users of iVillage.
“I think we’ve got to work through the details now that we’re all in the same company and we can talk to each other about price and planning and how to go to market,” Mr. Gaspin said.
NBCU has managed cross-network sales for the Olympics and its Green Is Universal initiative, Ms. Zalaznick said.
“”The company is excellent at it,” she said. “We’re just finding more horizontal slices to take a look at in a sales marketplace that’s crying out for these customized, consumer-focused solutions.”
NBC Universal plans to immediately begin pumping up Oxygen by cross-promoting its shows.
“There’s a couple of shows that come back on Oxygen in the month of December, and you’ll see promotion on our other cable networks, you’ll see some promotion on NBC,” Mr. Gaspin said, referring to “Bad Girls Club” and “The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency.” “That’s something we do well, we do it fast and you’ll see that almost immediately.”
In the third quarter, Oxygen was the No. 40 ad-supported cable network in total viewership in prime time. Among women 18 to 49, Oxygen was tied for 25th with a 0.3 rating, compared with the more established women’s network, Lifetime, which was No. 4 in that demo with a 0.9 rating.
Ms. Zalaznick said he hasn’t determined whether to name a general manager for Oxygen or who will fill the void as head of programming.
“I think that any network that’s made a splash with more than one program at this point is really on to something,” she said, but added careful study is required before determining an ongoing programming strategy.
“The key to Oxygen’s growth is to look at what is driving that success—mdash;not just the demographic, but which 18 to 49 viewers are they, which particular 18 to 34 viewers are they,” she said. “Where do they live, what do they do, what do they buy, what else do they like? And that’s more detail than I think we know right now. But to me, that’s the key to it. They’ve definitely tapped into something fun, something entertaining, and we’ve just got to get real granular about that.”
Ms. Zalaznick herself became part of NBC Universal when NBC acquired Universal Media and she was in charge of the Trio cable network. She later became the head of Bravo, which has acquired a stable of Web sites. She also is spearheading NBC Universal’s environmental efforts.
The other key cable executive under Mr. Gaspin is Bonnie Hammer, president of USA Network and Sci Fi Channel. He said there were no plans to change her responsibilities.
“Bonnie has done a fantastic job running the No. 1 network and the No. 7 network. Bonnie will continue doing both,” Mr. Gaspin said. “Cable is sort of the centerpiece of NBC Universal now, and within the cable group USA is the centerpiece. It’s just vitally important that Bonnie keep that network running as well as she has.”


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