Weaving Yet Another Web For Women

Can Working Woman be turned into a hot cyber property?

Kay Koplovitz tells of being at a dinner in Paris not long ago with a group of friends including journalist Charlie Rose and casino tycoon Stephen A. Wynn. Back in 1977, about the same time Wynn was founding Mirage Resorts Inc. using junk bonds, Koplovitz had put together corporate backers and started a cable-TV network that she eventually built into USA Networks Inc. There were six changes in ownership during her two-decade tenure as USA's salaried chief executive, and Koplovitz departed in 1998 after control of the $4 billion company was ceded to Barry Diller. Meanwhile, Wynn was firmly in control of his creation and counting his zillions. "The only difference between you and me," Wynn told her, "is that I knew Michael Milken."

It was a lesson Koplovitz understood all too well: Women entrepreneurs have to work hard to gain the access to capital that men take for granted. To help the cause, in June, 1998, she became chair of President Clinton's National Women's Business Council. And on Jan. 27, a first-ever venture-capital conference for women that she championed is being held in Silicon Valley.

"MAIN FOCUS." Now, the cable pioneer is about to put her expertise to the test on the Web: She's taking over the helm of the company that publishes the monthly magazines Working Woman and Working Mother and launching in April a Web portal for women built around them. Although it hasn't been announced yet, Koplovitz has assumed the role of chief executive at WorkingWomanNetwork Inc. and has taken an undisclosed equity stake in the business with a group of investors including Oracle founder Lawrence J. Ellison and Net2Phone Chairman Clifford M. Sobel.

While she won't go into details, Koplovitz has big plans, including an acquisition to be announced in late January. She says WWN will be her "main focus," but she's also the chairman of two other companies nearing launch: a pay-per-view service for Broadway shows called Broadway Television Network Inc. and a "wellness" Web site, Wisebear.com. "I've always been seduced by how to bring new products and ideas to life," says Koplovitz.

With WWN, the considerable challenge is to turn print titles into hot cyber properties. Aided by the strong economy, Working Woman and Working Mother have had something of a revival since publishing veteran Jay C. MacDonald acquired them in 1996, along with Ms. magazine, which he sold last year. The magazines together have more than 1.5 million subscribers, and MacDonald says they account for more than half of WWN's $100 million in revenue. WWN, formerly known as MacDonald Communications Corp., also includes the National Association for Female Executives and a conference business.

In handing the reins to Koplovitz, MacDonald remains chairman and the largest individual shareholder after a $12 million financing round that brought in Ellison and others. "Not that Jay isn't a strong manager, but I think his strength was recognizing he needed somebody--preferably but not necessarily a woman--who had experience in being entrepreneurial and creating content from scratch," says Sobel, a WWN director. MacDonald calls Koplovitz "the poster child for this project."

Are even her weighty credentials enough? WWN could put Koplovitz in direct competition with Oxygen Media Inc., the Web site tied to a cable channel gearing up for a February launch by another cable veteran, Nickelodeon founder Geraldine Laybourne. "We'll do a deal with Kay," Laybourne says when hearing of Koplovitz's plans.

But there is plenty of other competition for women's attention online, including iVillage.com and Hearst Corp.-backed Women.com Networks Inc. (table). "It's going to be hard," predicts Women.com CEO Marleen McDaniel, for WWN to catch up. For her part, Koplovitz maintains that no other site is targeted the way WWN will be. "We're going to do business for women all the time--and it's going to be a very deep portal." The company aims to raise more money this spring in advance of an initial public offering next fall. If it works, Koplovitz will prove her business-building acumen yet again, only this time she'll bring a new generation of women along for the ride.

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