Breath of fresh air

Laybourne's Oxygen buys websites for women

NEW YORK — Former ABC/Disney Cable Networks president Geraldine Laybourne announced that the first deals for her new company — dubbed Oxygen Media — will be the acquisition of three Websites aimed at women from American Online and the sites’ owners.

In addition, AOL has agreed to make a minority investment in Oxygen Media. Walt Disney’s ABC Inc. was the first media company to invest in Oxygen Media.

In acquiring the three sites, in deals that Laybourne said were in the “multi-million dollar” range, Oxygen Media is trying to position itself as one of the major players in the women’s market online.

Oxygen Media will acquire Electra, a full-service online women’s network; Thrive, a healthy living site; and Moms Online, a parenting site. Laybourne noted that 52% of AOL’s users are women.

“We want to be a big media brand for women,” said Laybourne, who built her reputation as president of kids cabler Nickelodeon. “The key is that women have been underserved and underestimated by the media. The Internet is a more democratic organism. That’s why it’s not a surprise why we’re flocking to it.”

In addition to its online activities, Laybourne said that Oxygen Media has a television strategy. Industry observers have predicted that Laybourne will seek to create a female-targeted cable network, but she declined to discuss her TV plans.

Currently, Lifetime is the main cable network targeting women. ABC owns half of Lifetime and Laybourne said that any television venture that Oxygen Media did develop would not directly compete against Lifetime.

“Lifetime has built a magnificent brand, but that’s only one kind of woman,” said Laybourne. “We’re interested in a younger, 18-34 demographic. I don’t think we’ll take anything away from Lifetime. We’ll forge our own path.”

In buying the three Websites, Oxygen will inherit about 70 employees, and Laybourne has hired about 20 additional staffers for Oxygen’s New York and San Francisco offices.

New faces

Lawrence Wilkinson has been hired as vice chairman of Oxygen Media and president of the company’s San Francisco office. Wilkinson is a co-founder and former president of Global Business Network, a strategic consulting firm for clients in the new media, entertainment, communications and publishing industries. He also served as chief architect and currently is a director of Wired Ventures.

Laybourne said that Oxygen Media was pursuing additional strategic partners, and she said she’d announce additional investors before the end of the year.

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