Skip to main content

Female (Buying) Power

Whether they’re working, raising kids or
juggling both roles, women’s economic power remains
on the rise, and so does advertisers’ desire to reach them.

“Women are controlling household purse strings so advertisers
are willing to pay a premium to reach them,” Kim
Martin, president and general manager of two highly female-
targeted women’s networks — WE TV and Wedding
Central — said.

The marketplace’s renewed interest in reaching women
has been the catalyst for a recent surge in women-centric networks,
with Rainbow Media Holdings’ relaunch of the former
Romance Classics as WE TV in 2006 and the spinoff of
Wedding Central in 2009. Just last month, the team of Oprah
Winfrey and Discovery Communications rebranded Discovery
Health Channel as OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network.

“People are coming to us for inspiration and personal
growth,” OWN senior vice president of research David
Gleason said. “They are the same reasons they come to The
Oprah Winfrey Show.”


Those networks join the market’s long-established players.
Lifetime Television was the first on the scene, with
Hearst Television, ABC and Viacom launching the female-
focused network in 1984. Lifetime remains the
biggest U.S. basic-cable network aimed at women, with
nearly 100 million subscribers, and has since expanded
into Lifetime Movie Network and Lifetime Real Women.

It took 16 more years for another such network to come
on the scene, with Nickelodeon’s Geraldine Laybourne
partnering with Winfrey and the owners of Carsey-Werner
Entertainment — Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner and Caryn
Mandabach — to launch Oxygen in 2000. NBC Universal
bought Oxygen in 2007.

While those networks are specifi cally targeted at women,
all five broadcast networks have to pay attention to
women, who are well-known to collectively watch more
television than men.

“If women like it, the men will come,” Marcy Ross, executive
vice president of current programming at Fox, said.
Th ree of the broadcast network’s diverse shows — Glee,
House and Family Guy — all rank high among women.
“I think you can balance it so that everybody gets something.”

One of the keys to attracting women is to offer them
characters and relationships in which to invest, programmers

It doesn’t matter whether women are watching an unscripted
drama on Investigation
an unscripted soap or
reality competition on
Bravo or a crime procedural
on CBS — compell
ing characters,
complex relationships
and emotion are almost
always at the heart of female

That explains why
soapy shows like ABC’s
Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate
Private Practice remain
among television’s
highest-rated among

“Women emotionally
invest in their favorite
television series and
consider their favorite
characters ‘family and friends,’” according to Fox’s audience
research. “It’s not only entertaining for them; it’s cathartic.
They want to ‘feel’ when they watch a show. They
want to laugh or cry.”

This emotional connection to TV viewing is typically
not true for men, said Nancy Dubuc, who has the advantage
of overseeing both History and Lifetime. History
targets men; Lifetime is TV’s largest network aimed at

Lifetime also is one of the few women-focused cable networks
that offers the triple threat of scripted shows, unscripted
series and original movies.


“Men like the facts; women like high drama,” Dubuc said.
“Women watch for an emotional release, while men watch
to get smarter.”

Along those lines, genre isn’t necessarily important.
Women watch all genres — scripted, unscripted, drama,
comedy, news and sports.

In the end, women need to feel invested in the characters
and emotionally engaged in the story in order to come
back week after week.

“Men want their stories to be authentic, they want a lot of
information and they want nuts, bolts and details,” Dubuc
said. “Women want a lot more emotion, drama and highs
and lows.”

“What I always say is that movies are all about the concept
and television is all about the characters,” The CW
president of entertainment Dawn Ostroff said. “A movie
just needs someone to be intrigued enough by the concept
to walk in once and buy a ticket. TV has to bring people in
week in and week out, and they have to fall in love or fascination
with the characters. And women find themselves
extremely invested in our characters in ways we can’t even
describe. They are obsessed with these characters and relationships.”


While that formula can come packaged in almost any
genre, one major difference between younger and older
women is that younger audiences seek out and embrace
reality programming, much of which features troubled
teens, glamorous Kardashians or catty housewives.

Basic cable’s top eight shows among women 18-34 are
all unscripted: MTV’s Jersey Shore, MTV’s Teen Mom, E!’s
Keeping Up With the Kardashians, MTV’s The Hills, MTV’s
16 and Pregnant, E!’s Kortney and Khloe Take Miami, Bravo’s
Real Housewives of New Jersey and MTV’s The City.

A scripted show doesn’t enter the list until ABC Family’s
Secret Life of the American Teenager, which ties with AMC’s
zombie thriller The Walking Dead.

“Young people have grown up on reality programming
in a way that older people haven’t,” Michael Wright, executive
vice president and head of programming at TNT,
TBS and TCM, said. “They grew up with Real World and
Survivor, and now programmers have taken that form and
evolved it.

“Viewers have been conditioned to get that cathartic experience
from unscripted shows. Older viewers more often
get it from scripted programming.”

Unscripted programming also often feels more authentic
to younger viewers — a buzzword that programmers toss
out quite a bit when talking about younger demographics.

“Whenever we’ve done focus groups or online poll, the
one word that kept rising to the top in every conversation
we had with women was relationships,” said WE TV’s Martin,
who has rebranded that channel to focus specifi cally
on unscripted programs that take place during important
transitional periods in women’s lives: engagements, weddings,
pregnancies, births. “We are putting those experiences
on television in a relatable way. I think that women
feel these kinds of shows respect their lives.”

On broadcast, the most female-focused network is The CW,
which is one of the few places for advertisers to turn when
they want to precisely target young women, an audience
that’s tough to capture. While older people might be happy just to turn on the TV and watch a show, younger audiences
want to go to the show’s Web site, check out the playlist
and chat online with their friends about it. And Th e CW also
tries to stay on the cutting edge, so that its viewers are learning
something about pop-culture trends while they watch.


“A lot of young women watch our shows the way they read
magazines. They come to learn about fashion, music, technology,”
Ostroff said. “It’s one-stop shopping: they are getting
satisfaction from being entertained, while they are
learning something culturally.”

Other broadcast networks also are more fully turning
their attention to women, while some, like CBS and ABC,
are continuing to do what they’ve always done.

“Targeting women is the No. 1 priority here at Fox,” Fox executive
vice president of current programming Marcy Ross said.
“We have to cater to them and we have to program to them.”

Women also love shows about crime, whether in
scripted or unscripted formats.

“Women like to solve puzzles and they like to learn something
while they are being entertained,” said Henry Schleiff
, president and general manager of Investigation Discovery
and the Military Channel. Investigation Discovery targets
25-to-54-year-old women with unscripted programming
that focuses on crime and justice, while Military Channel
provides similarly targeted shows to men in that age group.

“The most common thing we hear in our research is that
our programming is addictive. Women are always saying
that they have great intuition and they like to test our intuition
with our stuff ,” Schleiff said of Investigation Discovery,
which grew more than any other cable network in
audience and distribution in 2010.

In general, women have always liked crime procedurals,
which is why CBS’s primetime schedule continues to
attract big audiences and repeat well.

Entire cable networks have been carried by off-net
crime procedurals, such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,
NCIS and Law & Order.

“Our strategy going
in six years ago
was to find an original
drama that
would be compatible
with our Law
& Order
said Wright. “We
found that with The
, and then we
worked to build a
foundation of programming
The Closer.”

That resulted in
such shows as last
summer’s hit, Rizzoli
& Isles
, which now
ranks as basic cable’s
top-rated show
among women 25-
54, as well as Leverage,
Memphis Beat
and Hawthorne.

“Now we are working
to find new programming
relatable and accessible
to TNT audiences,
but also pushes
beyond those boundaries,” said Wright. “We’re always looking
for shows about the populist, everyman hero; shows that
are designed to be relatable to our audience.”

For TNT and TBS, that hero may come in the form of the
everyday guy, like the character Ray Romano portrays on
TNT’s Men of a Certain Age. Fox is thinking bigger.

“I am obsessed right now with strong, heroic men,” said
Ross. That’s the idea behind Fox’s new show, The Chicago
, which premieres today (Feb. 7) at 9 p.m. ET, and tells
the story of fighting corruption in both the city and in the
police force that protects it.

In the end, appealing to women comes down to connecting
with them.

“It really has to have emotion,” Lifetime’s Dubuc said. “If
I had to pick out one word, that would be it.”

Paige Albiniak is a contributing editor at

Broadcasting &