Zalaznick adds Oxygen to portfolio

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UPDATED 3:49 p.m. Nov. 20, 2007

NBC Universal has appointed Bravo Media president Lauren Zalaznick to extend her oversight to its newest acquisition, Oxygen.

The company announced the promotion Tuesday along with notice of completion of the transaction, valued at $875 million. NBC Uni also projected revenue and cost synergies of about $35 million next year.

In addition, NBC Uni said that Lisa Gersh, president and COO of Oxygen, will stay on at the company. She will remain at the cable channel for the next three months to oversee a transition period before assuming an unspecified new role within NBC Uni.

Parting ways with Oxygen is Debby Beece, president of programming and marketing, who resigned Friday. She had led the network since 2000.

Jeff Zucker, president and CEO of NBC Uni, sees Oxygen fitting in well with a multimedia, multibrand push to reach female audiences.

"It's all about the ability to take all women we reach on TV, online and on other digital platforms that gives the ability to create a virtual women's network," he said.

The appointment of Zalaznick was not unexpected given the high marks she already has scored for taking Bravo to the next level after NBC Uni's 2002 acquisition from Rainbow Media. She is no stranger to balancing two channels, having run Trio and Bravo upon joining NBC Uni in 2004. Trio has since been folded into the Bravo Media business.

"Lauren has had tremendous success growing Bravo and we know, with her talent and passion, she will do the same with Oxygen," said Jeff Gaspin, president and COO of Universal Television Group, to whom Zalaznick reports.

No new strategic course for Oxygen has been set yet given Zalaznick has just begun studying the asset. "From a programming perspective, I need to start an immersion therapy, jump into their pool and see what they have been successful in, what their architecture is," she said.

However, Zalaznick already has decided to maintain separate teams for developing and producing programming for Bravo and Oxygen. But given areas of overlap in appealing to female viewers, she will be looking to define what segment of women Oxygen will target that will be different than Bravo.

"It is more a question of focus," Zalaznick said, "what kinds of women, who we try to get first."

Cross-promotion will undoubtedly be a priority with Oxygen likely to benefit from marketing exposure on other NBC Uni series.

Gersh has been with Oxygen since its inception in 2000. She is a co-founder of the network, which was owned by a group including Geraldine Laybourne, Oprah Winfrey and Paul Allen. Laybourne, who engineered the launch of Oxygen, said she will be leaving the company shortly after NBC Uni signaled its intent to buy Oxygen, which was first reported in The Hollywood Reporter (HR 8/10).

"I'm very proud of what we've built at Oxygen," Laybourne said. "As I leave the company, I am delighted to pass the torch to Lauren, a seasoned executive with a proven track record."
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