After a rocky two-year stint, Betty Cohen has resigned as President and CEO of Lifetime Entertainment Services.
Lifetime's parent companies The Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp. announced Cohen's exit amid rampant industry chatter that the they have met with potential replacements for her job. The decision came just a day after Cohen painted a rosy picture of the women's network's health at its
to advertisers and press.
, who had a year left on her contract, has endured a tenure blighted by double-digit ratings drops, an inability to find new hits, and the network's first revenue dip in its 23-year history (
B&C April 2, 2007
). Once the most-watched cable network among both women and men, Lifetime is now No. 8 in total viewers and fell 17% in its core women 18-49 demo last year.
In a memo alerting employees of her exit, Cohen said "it is time for me to move on to a new challenge" and attached the press release that went out to media. Staffers were informed that Cohen was out this morning.
Lifetime's board has begun meeting with women thought to be candidates for either Cohen's or Daniels' slot, or some redesigned leadership role. Names being bandied about in the industry as possible candidates include ABC reality chief Andrea Wong, CW president Dawn Ostroff, USA/Sci Fi president Bonnie Hammer, Comcast/Sony Networks President Diane Robina and even former Lifetime president/CEO Carole Black.
The most floated name is ABC's reality/late-night chief Andrea Wong. Known as a hard-nosed
businesswomen and a shrewd programmer
, Wong is somewhat unlikely for the CEO slot as it entails managing all aspects of Lifetime and its sister networks, including affiliate relations and marketing and Wong's background is mainly in programming.
In one scenario, former Lifetime president/CEO Carole Black would return to the company in an intermediary role to train a new president and facilitate interactions between the individual and the board. Black, who presided over Lifetime in its ratings heyday and the beginning of its fall from grace, left the company when her own contract expired in March 2005 and has since traveled and served on corporate and charitable boards.
A CW spokesperson said the network "does not comment on rumors." Black left Lifetime as entertainment chief in 2002 after breaking new ground with original dramas Any Day Now, The Division and Strong Medicine. Hammer is said to be under contract with USA/Sci Fi parent company NBC Universal.
Cohen, 50, was tapped by Disney and Hearst to be president/CEO of Lifetime Entertainment Services in April 2005. The longtime cable executive joined the network with a reputation as a keen brand-builder. As the first manager of marketing for Lifetime precursor Cable Health Network in 1982, she established the network’s footing with female viewers.
She went on to help put Nick and TNT on the map before co-founding Cartoon Network and overseeing its expansion into an international entity for nine years. She left Turner to develop a youth-targeting multiplatform project that she put on hold for the Lifetime gig.
That decision proved ill-fated.
While Cohen and Daniels labored to expand Lifetime's programming repertoire, programs aimed at younger viewers have floundered with only one, the psychic reality show Lisa Williams being renewed for a second season. A rebrand Cohen spearheaded - including swapping the network's "Television for Women" tagline for "My Story is on Lifetime" - fell flat.
Last year, the company got ensnared in an embarrassing battle with Dish Network, which dropped Lifetime and LMN for a month in a carriage dispute and replaced the latter with competitive women's network Oxygen. Lifetime had to compensate advertisers for the lost month, prompting the revenue drops.
Cohen's tenure, however, was marked by significant progress in the digital department, an area previously neglected. She also continued Lifetime's brand-building public affairs campaigns and championing of women's causes in D.C.
She also walked into a tough situation; when Cohen arrived, Lifetime hadn't greenlighted an original series since 2003. And the network got some help in reaching No. 1 status in 2002 by competitor USA Network losing wrestling programming and TNT struggling with its own originals.
In her memo to employees, Cohen wrote, "I have been awed by and grateful for your dedication to Lifetime and to women everywhere."
Calls to a Lifetime representative regarding who will lead the company before the board names a replacement were not returned.
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