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Women Forge Deal for New Cable Network

November 24, 1998|SALLIE HOFMEISTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two of the most prominent women in television are joining forces with cable executive Geraldine Laybourne to launch a new channel for women that will be unveiled in January 2000. Talk show host Oprah Winfrey and television producer Marcy Carsey, along with her two longtime partners, are investing an undisclosed amount in Laybourne's new company, Oxygen Media.

As part of the deal, the partners will create a new women's channel, called Oxygen, that will air nine hours a day of original programming and will be able to draw upon the libraries of Winfrey's production company, Harpo Entertainment Group, which produces "The Oprah Winfrey Show," as well as of Carsey's Carsey-Werner Co., the creator of such prime-time hits as "The Cosby Show," "Roseanne" and "3rd Rock From the Sun."

Most of the programming in those libraries is tied up until 2002.

As expected, cable giant Tele-Communications Inc., has signed up to carry the new channel--committing to an initial 7 million homes. TCI is so far the only cable operator agreeing to distribute the channel, which could have difficulty wedging onto the nation's crowded cable systems.

"I have no illusions that this is a tough thing to pull off," said Laybourne, who is credited with building Nickelodeon into the top service for children for Viacom Corp. through the early '90s. She said allying with two of the most compelling voices in television could help her sales effort.

Laybourne is also arguing that women are a grossly underserved audience, accounting for 70% of consumer spending but only 32% of targeted advertising dollars.

Laybourne formed Oxygen Media this spring after leaving Walt Disney Co., where she was president of a cable group that includes Disney Channel and investments in Lifetime Television, A&E and E Entertainment Television. Disney and America Online are also investors in Oxygen Media.

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