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AETN Seeing Progress With Project Lifetime

Raven expects record year after integrating network 9/20/2010 12:01:00 AM Eastern

A year after it was absorbed by
Arts & Entertainment Television Networks,
Lifetime seems to be showing
a bit more life. Scheduling changes have
boosted ratings, new programming is being
developed and the network rode a hot market
to a successful upfront.

Abbe Raven, CEO of AETN, says that the
distraction of combining the networks is now
over. “Groups that have gone through mergers
tend to stall a bit creatively,” she says. “But
we’re having our best year ever,” with ratings
up 7%, more than other network groups.

Lifetime, the longtime leader in programming
for women, faltered under CEOs Betty
Cohen and Andrea Wong, who tried to freshen
up the network’s dowdy image.

Last September, Hearst Corp. and The Walt
Disney Co. folded Lifetime into AETN, which
they own along with NBC Universal. That put
the channel under Raven. She named Nancy Dubuc Lifetime’s
new president. A programmer, Dubuc had helped Raven turn
around A&E and make History into a powerhouse.

When early word of the deal got out, job security became a
concern of many well-paid Lifetime senior staffers. When the
merger closed, changes were made in marketing and publicity.
Other departments were consolidated with those in AETN’s
other networks.

SNL Kagan estimates that non-programming costs were reduced by $9.1 million at Lifetime in 2009. The result was
that while ratings dropped, the network’s profit margin rose
to 38.9% from 37.1%.

“We think the real benefit to this [combination] is not in
the short-term cost savings,” says Scott Sassa, president of
Hearst Entertainment & Syndication. The merger created a
company that better serves advertisers and distributors and
can more effectively cross-promote programming. “Abbe has
made a lot of progress. You’re starting to see it come around,”
Sassa says.

While the company is now “more efficient,” according to
Raven, she says AETN is investing in programming: “We feel
very strongly that the way to success is through terrific strong
original programming.” Production is underway for three Lifetime
drama pilots: Against the Wall, Exit 19 and an untitled
Josh Berman project starring Sherry Stringfield and Jamie-Lynn Sigler. Lifetime also has six non-scripted
shows in the works and is considering original
programming for daytime as well.

After moving its original movies to Monday
and by creating a 90-minute version of Project
, Lifetime’s women 18-49 ratings are
up 3% and up 7% among women 25-54 in
the third quarter, marking the first increases
in two years.

Media buyers see progress. “I don’t think it’s
any secret Lifetime has lost a little steam and
needs a reboot,” says Francois Lee, VP at media
buyer MediaVest. “I think they have the right
people in it. I think they have the right thought
process, so with a little time, hopefully they’ll be
back on track. Even now, they’re definitely up
there as one of the key networks if you’re trying
to reach a highly targeted female audience.”

AETN, which does business in 150 countries,
will push Lifetime as an international
brand, and will generate revenues by selling
DVDs of Lifetime’s original movies.

When making the deal that combined the companies,
NBCU planned to sell its stake in the enlarged AETN. That
probably won’t happen until after NBCU is acquired by Comcast.
The way things are going, NBCU might be getting more
than it bargained for.

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