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Women's channel Oxygen up for sale

A potential suitor for the cable network, which is said to be worth about $1.1 billion, is NBC Universal.

August 11, 2007|Meg James | Times Staff Writer

Oxygen Media -- an independent cable channel whose owners include talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, Oxygen Chief Executive Geraldine Laybourne and billionaire Paul Allen -- is on the auction block.

One potential suitor: NBC Universal.

NBC declined to comment on the potential sale, which was first reported in the Hollywood Reporter.

An Oxygen spokeswoman confirmed that the privately owned cable channel, which debuted seven years ago and is now available in about two-thirds of U.S. homes with TV sets, was considering a change in ownership.

"We're always evaluating options to maximize value for our shareholders, including private equity and strategic partners," said Kassie Canter, Oxygen's chief communications officer.

Oxygen is worth about $1.1 billion, according to SNL Kagan cable analyst Derek Baine. He estimated that the channel last year brought in about $175 million in total revenue and profit of $27 million.

The channel launched amid great fanfare in 2000 with a goal to appeal to younger women with a mix of programming and advocacy campaigns. In its early years, Oxygen struggled to get distribution on the major cable systems. But it gained traction in recent years and has been profitable for the last three years.

Nielsen Media Research ratings show that Oxygen, which has an eclectic mix of shows that include such original series as "Campus Ladies," "The Bad Girls Club" and "Tori & Dean: Inn Love," attracts an average of 295,000 viewers a night.

Oxygen lags far behind the genre leader, Lifetime, which reaches nearly 1.5 million viewers a night. Lifetime is a partnership of Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp.

The interest in Oxygen signals NBC Universal's desire to become a bigger player in women's programming.

Last year the General Electric Co. unit spent $600 million to buy the women-oriented website iVillage. NBC figured that iVillage would make an ideal online complement to its profitable NBC morning program "The Today Show" and allow the company to host online communities.

Oxygen could help NBC make better use of iVillage and give it another platform to target women, who are sought after by advertisers because they typically make most household buying decisions.

SNL Kagan's Baine saw another reason for NBC's interest. He said that News Corp.'s plan to launch the Fox Business Network in October could put a drag on the finances of one of NBC Universal's most profitable channels, the business network CNBC.

"It's really not a huge surprise that they would want to expand their portfolio," Baine said of NBC.

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meg.james@latimes.com

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