Oxygen Undecided on WNBA Renewal

As Oxygen nears the end of its two-year programming agreement with the Women's National Basketball Association, network executives are undecided about renewing the deal.

The network averaged a 0.2 rating for its 13 regular-season WNBA game schedule. Oxygen was not rated during last year's 11-game WNBA package.

The network will air at least two playoff games beginning this week, with the possibility of airing up to four games.

"We've been fortunate in terms of having great match-ups and continuity, airing the games live on Tuesdays," Oxygen Sports president and executive producer Lydia Stephans said. "The ratings have been doing quite well — it's been on par with the rest of the lineup."

The WNBA telecasts attracted a younger audience — both male and female — to the network, Stephans noted.

"The audience was 50% male and 50% female, on par with what ESPN2 does with the league," Stephans added.

Nevertheless, the network is waiting until after the playoffs coverage to determine whether it will extend its agreement with the league.

"Once we're through the playoffs, we'll assess the entire season and strategically see how it fits the rest of the programming slate," Stephans said.

Regardless of whether or not the network keeps the WNBA, Stephans said Oxygen would not add any more sports programming to its schedule. Over the years, it has offered Women's Tennis Association events, gymnastics and ballroom dancing. In December, Oxygen will air a figure-skating event, she added.

The WNBA's other cable partner, ESPN2, will present up to 10 league playoff games, tipping Aug. 28.

The network averaged a 0.25 rating for its first seven-regular season telecasts, nearly even with last year's 0.26 mark for 10 contests. During last year's playoffs, ESPN averaged a 0.28 for three games, while ESPN2 pulled a 0.33 average for eight games, according to the network.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.