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Hard Choices: Lauren Zalaznick on Rebranding Oxygen

The president of NBC Universal Women & Lifestyle Entertainment Networks talks about shaking up Bravo and creating her own empire

In November 2007, NBC Universal acquired the Oxygen Network. I had been running NBCU's Bravo unit for three years, and the onus was now on me to create a new pop culture channel in the same house as the one where I'd just had a long birthing process.

I decided to break up my championship team at Bravo. We had to rebrand Oxygen within months—there were aggressive numbers to hit. The toughest decision was where to get the people. I felt I had to upset a very stable apple cart. I plucked the absolute force behind marketing and digital and moved him to the new network. We moved our creative person and our head of development. The risk was that, if we changed something at Bravo, it might be a house of cards. But I felt that going into the marketplace to hire would have been a bigger risk. Meanwhile, I was managing up to my bosses, saying it's all going great. My pitch was that these moves had nothing to do with Bravo. Oxygen needed these people.

As all that was happening, the leader of [female-oriented website] iVillage left that role. I raised my hand to say I wanted to take on iVillage and make it a stellar asset. [NBCU CEO] Jeff Zucker's answer was, "No, you've got enough on your plate. Relax, lady." There was a huge debate: Could a cable lady take on this digital thing? But I had a vision for it. I thought iVillage was suffering in digital quarantine. It was not a social network; it was a high-quality content play.

The "no" period was a couple of months. The trigger for "yes" was me coming back and saying, "What I really want to do is a sales and marketing initiative that rolls up female-centric audiences across the entire NBCU portfolio. I want iVillage to be the digital anchor." I promised I'd restore and surpass the asset value in a couple years.

They said yes, but there was no tolerance for investment. We had to dismantle iVillage and rebuild. Now, this is a business that has made its numbers for the first time and is profitable. Every day is a thousand decisions, and you've got to own each one. That's what makes you an operator instead of a consultant.

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