A Year In, Cold-Blooded Oxygen Rebrand is Hot

Why This Matters: A network rebranding is a colossal undertaking, and successful ones are studied carefully.

It has been a year since Oxygen flipped the switch on being a full-blown true-crime network. Oxygen executives said the workload has been massive, but that significantly increased viewership has made it worthwhile for the NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment network.

Oxygen had long aired true-crime programming, such as Snapped, about women accused of murder, alongside female-friendly fare such as Bad Girls Club. But it was July 22 when the network rebranded itself as a true-crime destination, with Dick Wolf’s Cold Justice premiering that day.

Basic programming tenets persist whatever the network’s subject matter may be, Rod Aissa, Oxygen Media executive VP, original programming and development, said. “A good story is a good story,” he said. “Crime has so many twists and turns, so many investment points.”

The rebrand has been successful. Oxygen’s first quarter was its most-watched in total day in the past seven years among all viewers, and Q2 looks to set a similarly high mark. From July 2017 to June 2018, Oxygen has seen 32% growth in total viewers for total day.

Crime-focused programs that have made it a robust start for Oxygen include Unspeakable Crime: The Killing of Jessica Chambers, The Disappearance of, Mysteries and Scandals and the Ice-T-hosted-and-produced In Ice Cold Blood. Aissa singles out event series such as The Disappearance of Natalee Holloway and Aaron Hernandez Uncovered as being “super-defining, in terms of big swings we want to take.”

ID Digs Crime

Nearly a decade before Oxygen switched to all crime, all the time, Investigation Discovery (ID) debuted, taking over for Discovery Times. Media consultant Bill Carroll cited ID’s “amazing marketing” in establishing the network as a go-to place for crime programming. “Because of its success, it opened the door for other similar networks,” he said.

Part of Discovery Inc., ID’s summer debutants include fresh seasons of The Perfect Murder and Evil Lives Here, and new series The Devil Speaks and The Last Defense.

Not so successful with crime was NBCUniversal’s Cloo, which aired reruns of procedural series such as the Law & Order franchise and Monk. It folded in February 2017.

Like ID, Oxygen is having a busy summer. Under its “Cruel Summer” banner, In Defense Of, about the complex relationships between opprobrious defendants and the attorneys who represent them, debuted June 25. Serial Killer with Piers Morgan, in which Morgan sits with depraved killers and explores what made them kill, started July 16. A new season of Cold Justice, with veteran prosecutor Kelly Siegler and her rotating team of seasoned detectives digging into small-town murder cases, premieres Aug. 4.

Morgan, who previously hosted Piers Morgan Live on CNN, credited Oxygen for coming hard after the U.S. rights to Serial Killer. He said he’s “impressed” with the network’s true-crime game plan. “They are maximizing the general fascination in America and around the world in true crime,” Morgan said. “Oxygen’s commitment to this has been very big.”

Seriously Heavy Lifting

Aissa has had experience launching a network, being a veteran of the team that brought OWN to life. He said rebranding an existing network proved to be harder than spawning one from scratch. “There are a lot of buy-ins you have to get,” he said, mentioning distribution and ad sales. “There’s a lot of listening and a lot of explaining. It’s a really big job.”

If he finds himself ever again overhauling a network, Aissa said he’ll be sure to have more programming ready to go at launch.

Oxygen marked its one-year anniversary in the full-time crime space with a “killer breakfast bar” celebration for staff, Aissa said. Yes, “cereal killers” were there.

Mike Bloxham, senior VP of global media and entertainment at consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates, said he believes Oxygen is off to a strong start. “Nielsen numbers suggest Oxygen has had programming and marketing success, but perhaps most significantly, it has managed to attract new network viewers in large numbers as well as boost overall viewing,” he said. “It’s that new viewer metric that is probably most significant in inspiring the confidence that has led to the decision to commission 10 new shows, which is a major commitment for any network.”

So what’s next for Oxygen? “What’s next is more,” said Aissa. “We’re curating content for traditional true-crime viewers and emerging true-crime viewers. It means we need more content.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.