• For most of 2001, Lifetime was the No.1 basic cable network with households in prime time
• Revenue should reach $715 million in 2001, up from $550 million in 2000
PHOTO BY CHRIS CASABURI
Carole Black knows what women want. Since Black, 58, became president and CEO of Lifetime Entertainment Services in March, 1999, she has turned Lifetime TV into the year's top-ranked cable network in prime time. Suddenly, its earnest and uplifting portrayals of women achieving against the odds are beating out CNN, ESPN, and USA Networks (USAI ), and a host of other hot rivals. Black has tripled the network's programming budget to about $300 million for 2002, doubled the marketing budget, and revved up campaigns such as breast cancer awareness to boost the brand. And advertisers are buying plenty of time on Lifetime TV, which reaches 84 million homes, even as they curtail spending elsewhere. No wonder Black feels the world is ready for yet another Lifetime brand. She recently launched a documentary channel called Lifetime Real Women to supplement the main network and its movie channel.
Not bad for a network once known for its maudlin the-world-done-her-wrong themes--or for Black, the girl voted most likely to succeed at her Cincinnati high school. Raised by her Armenian grandparents after her parents' divorce, Black has done everything from writing a "Dear Carole" advice column for truckers to heading up KNBC in Los Angeles, where her clever marketing made it the top-ranked station.
At Lifetime, Black comes across as a tough but loving big sister, with conversations swinging from diets to demographics to dating--without missing a beat. It's the kind of banter she loves to see on her hit shows, which include The Division, about female detectives, and Strong Medicine, set in a women's health clinic. "We're not into fantasy," says Black. "Our shows and our characters have to feel real." She adds that Lifetime's down-to-earth tone, and its potential to make girls and women feel terrific about themselves, is what drew her to this Walt Disney Co./Hearst Corp. joint venture. And, of course, who could pass up the chance to take on the big boys of broadcasting? Having conquered cable, Black would love to make Lifetime the ratings queen of the entire dial. That's a big call, given that cable still draws a fraction of the viewers of network TV. But Black has proven that TV for women can be mainstream.