True Crime Is Oxygen’s True North

Oxygen continues to build on its true crime-themed lineup in April, including new series Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project as well as specials Catching a Serial Killer: Sam Little and Snapped: Notorious Hollywood Ripper.

Rod Aissa

Rod Aissa

Rod Aissa, executive VP, original programming, Oxygen Media and E! Production, spoke with Multichannel News about true crime content’s popularity and the NBCUniversal-owned network’s evolving strategy. Here’s an edited excerpt of the conversation.

MCN: Did Oxygen’s move to true crime two years ago generate the ratings and brand development results that were anticipated?

Rod Aissa: It actually has. We’ve had another year of growth since our rebrand in our original true-crime programming block, and for us that is significant — that made us know that we are still relevant and we’re still on the path of evolution in our brand. We’re looking to diversify with more hours. Our struggle has always been, how do we get more hours to compete with the streaming devices, as well as the goliaths that some of our competitors in the cable landscape are. Now that we’re able to increase those hours, we have a stronger foothold in being a differentiator in the space.

MCN: Why is true crime so popular?

RA: There’s not a higher stake than a truecrime story. You can go on Jeopardy! and win a million dollars, but the stakes of life and death are the ultimate challenge. Getting into the psychology of why someone commits a crime and how justice gets served is fascinating to viewers. Whether we’re red, blue or independent, we all have to believe that our justice system is going to work for us. The genre itself speaks to amazing storytelling, and I think it also speaks to relatability and high stakes.

Oxygen is trying to make true crime pay in the ratings with series like ’Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project.’

Oxygen is trying to make true crime pay in the ratings with series like ’Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project.’

MCN: How will the industry evolve in 2020?

RA: You expect to see more movement on the streaming side. We’re excited about the Peacock launch because it provides more places to make content. As long as you can continue to make content in this game and get it out to the target audience, I think places like Oxygen will continue to be in really good shape. Within NBCU we’re the only crime network, so we’re additive to the sales offerings and we provide diversity in the portfolio, which is really important. We’re not trying to chase the same things that our sister networks are chasing.

MCN: How will the streaming wars evolve?

RA: It’ll be interesting to see with the launches of Quibi and Peacock — and with Disney+ seemingly doing well — who survives, how the various services survive and evolve within the marketplace.

MCN: You also oversee E! Productions. What are the expectations for that?

RA: We love the family doc space, and thanks to [Keeping Up With The Kardashians] and a few others we’ve had great success in it. We’re also looking at some old franchises from back in the day like E! True Hollywood Story and Talk Soup. There’s never been a better time for curation and funny commentary, so we certainly feel blessed to have all of these things to write and joke about.

We’ve also launched a news programming block in the morning from 7 to 11 a.m., which is drawing in a diverse audience. E! in its new evolution is building upon what’s worked in the past, while seeking to expand upon that with new content.

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.