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Zalaznick Expected to Bring Buzz Factor to Oxygen Media

Lauren Zalaznick has won attention and buzz for networks like VH1, Trio and Bravo, and her boss wants her to do the same thing for Oxygen.

Zalaznick, president of Bravo Media, was named to oversee Oxygen Media Tuesday as NBC Universal announced that it had completed its purchase of the female-focused network.

NBCU paid about $875 million, net of financial assets, for 74.6-million subscriber Oxygen, which was launched by Geraldine Laybourne in 2000.

Zalaznick was given responsibility for Oxygen by Jeff Gaspin, who worked with her at VH1 years ago and is now president and chief operating officer of the Universal Television Group.

“One of the reasons Lauren is fantastic for this opportunity is she brings an incredible amount of life to any network that she’s been part of, whether it’s VH1 when I was there with her; whether it was Trio, that she did on her own; or whether it was Bravo,” Gaspin said.

“She knows how to get attention for networks,” he said. “She knows how to make them look and feel like they’ve never felt before. And that’s what I hope, and expect, that she will do for Oxygen.”

Zalaznick said she will carefully study what shows have been successful on Oxygen, and then focus on duplicating the development of shows likely to be similar hits. She cited shows such as The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency and Tori & Dean: Inn Love.

“Oxygen has done a great job as one of the few remaining independent television stations putting itself on the map,” Zalaznick said. “Now that they are not just poised for growth, but already growing significantly, it’s almost like an adolescent …You’ve got to bring it into maturity on a path that everyone believes is the right path, and that’s going to come from looking at where their success has already come from.”

Oxygen has more than 200 employees, and NBCU will do a careful evaluation to determine who stays or is let go, according to Gaspin. He couldn’t say how many Oxygen staffers might be laid off as a result of the network’s integration into the NBCU Cable group.

Debby Beece, Oxygen’s president or programming and marketing, left the network last week. Laybourne will be available on a consulting basis, Gaspin said. Oxygen president and chief operating officer Lisa Gersh will stay on in that role for a three-month transition period, and then assume a new unspecified role at NBCU.    

“We very carefully go through an integration process,” Gaspin said. “We have done it many times in the past. We look where there’s overlaps. We spend a lot of time and effort, though, trying to understand where the talent lies within, in this case, Oxygen.”

There are opportunities for Oxygen staffers in areas like finance and payroll not only at NBCU, but also at its parent, General Electric, Gaspin said. 

Oxygen’s staffing in areas like programming, ad sales and affiliate sales, where NBCU already has an infrastructure in place, will have to be looked at, according to Gaspin.

 “They’ve done a terrific job as a sales organization, both affiliate sales and ad sales, so we want to keep that momentum going,” he said. “That’s something we don’t want to risk. However, we are a larger cable group and we do have both functions. So we have to be very careful and look at those areas in great detail and make sure we allow Oxygen to function as an independent company, but yet work within the NBC Cable group.”

Zalaznick and Gaspin both noted that Oxygen will now benefit by being cross-promoted on other NBCU TV outlets, but they didn’t offer any specifics.

“What you can definitely expect to see is a lot of energy and resources around promotional opportunities,” Zalaznick said. “Anywhere where we can enhance the consumer experience and give them a little taste of something that they would never have had the opportunity to sample before, that’s what promotion is all about.”

Gaspin did say that NBCU may try to create “a virtual women’s network” by selling advertisers a package that includes iVillage, Oxygen, Bravo and The Today Show.

There are no plans to move Oxygen out of its headquarters in Chelsea Market in Manhattan, according to Zalaznick.