Sunday, August 08, 1999

Cincinnati native relies on Lifetime of marketing skills




BY JOHN KIESEWETTER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        PASADENA, Calif. — Competition isn't anything new to Carole Black.

        The Cincinnati native, named president and CEO of the Lifetime Television cable channel in February, started her career in 1965 as a Procter & Gamble brand manager for Crest, Gleem and Head & Shoulders.

        In the past five years, she has taken NBC's KNBC-TV to No. 1 in the super-competitive Los Angeles news ratings.

        Now, she's at Lifetime bracing for new competition from three new cable services aimed at women — the Oxygen channel from former Nickelodeon executive Geraldine Laybourne, the Women's Network from Turner Broadcasting and the Discovery Health Channel.

        “I've never been anywhere unless it's been competitive,” says Ms. Black, 54, after addressing the Television Critics Association summer press tour here.

        “The amazing thing to me is that it took so long for someone else to compete with us. It seems like an obvious thing to do, doesn't it?” says the former Carole Federle, a 1961 Withrow High School graduate.

        Lifetime, which adopted the “Television for Women” campaign in 1994, reaches 73 million homes and is the ninth-largest basic cable channel.

        The channel, a joint venture by ABC and Hearst, offers a mix of original series (Oh Baby, Any Day Now, The Ruby Wax Show), off-network reruns (Chicago Hope, Party of Five, Ellen, Golden Girls), new and old movies, documentaries and public service campaigns about breast cancer and child care.

        “Lifetime has always had competition, because everyone is after women — the E! channel, Romance Classics, Food TV, HGTV,” Ms. Black says. “We've been the dominant brand, and it seems like the more competition comes in, the more our numbers go up. Fortunately, we're in 73 million homes while these new channels will be starting with a small number of households.”

        But the new channels have some big names behind them:

        • Oxygen investors include former Microsoft co-chairman Paul Allen and Oprah Winfrey, who will host a Sunday night show. Not much else is known about Oxygen programming, except that Candice Bergen will host a talk show at 10 weeknights.

        • The Women's Network will draw on the information resources of CNN, 18 Time Inc. magazines targeted at females, and publishers of Conde Nast magazines.

        • Discovery Health, which premiered Monday , is a $350 million cable and online (Discoveryhealth.com) venture by the parent company of the Discovery, Learning, Travel and Animal Planet channels.

        In a shot at Lifetime, Women's Network President Pat Mitchell says she “can promise our women viewers that we will not be offering movies or reruns of sitcoms, but reliable and relevant information ... (for) today's active and smart and time-challenged women.”

        Ms. Black isn't surprised that media companies are trying to get in touch with the feminine side.

        Men have a choice of channels (ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports Net, Golf Channel, SpeedVision), so why shouldn't women? Plus women make 70 percent of all retail purchases in the U.S. and pay 95 percent of the household bills.

        “Not only do women buy most of the products and services, but they also have this incredible discretionary income, because they're working,” Ms. Black says.

Pioneer at P&G
        Ms. Black has been a student of marketing for almost her entire life. Her parents divorced when she was an infant, so she was raised by her grandparents, Harry and Arax Boyajian, owners of the old French Nougat Candy Co. at Liberty and Vine. Her best friends at Withrow were the daughters of the families that owned the Echo restaurant in Hyde Park and Mount Lookout Cinema.

        After graduating from Ohio State University in 1965, she became one of the first women hired by P&G in brand management for toilet goods, now called personal care products.

        “It was the absolute best training that anyone could receive ... with a lot of emphasis on consumer research, strategy, the media. We called it "Brand Management Boot Camp.'

        “P&G was excellent in teaching us that you have to have a relationship with that woman who buys most of the goods and services. And it has served me well since then,” she says.

        She left P&G after 21/2 years when her son, Eric, was born. At the time she was married to Cincinnati dentist William F. Black, “who is still a good friend.”

        Ms. Black resumed her career in 1983 for a Chicago advertising agency, where she was in charge of the Sears account. She moved to Los Angeles in 1986 as Disney's vice president for home video marketing, and turned around Disney's lagging home video business.

        “It seems strange today, but no kids wanted a Disney video back then,” she says. So she scrapped the strategy aimed at kids and went after working women who felt guilty about not spending time with the children.

        “What these women wanted was for their children to have the same quality of childhood that they had, and one thing that these moms loved were those wonderful family experiences of going to the movies with their parents. And overnight sales skyrocketed,” she says, from 300,000 cassettes per title in 1986 to 10 million cassettes for a 1988 Christmas promotion.

        “And we discovered that once a mother bought one Disney video, she would buy at least eight — because it was so satisfying to the child.”

        At Lifetime, she's eager to enhance the personal bond the channel has forged with women over its annual breast cancer awareness program and the “Caring for Kids” campaign about child-care problems launched in April.

        “The child-care crisis issue is so huge, because most women who work and have children have a life built on a house of cards. One child gets a cough, and everything collapses,” she says.

        Lifetime has assembled a coalition of 150 women's and children's non-profit organizations to put pressure on politicians for better child-care laws. It will launch a national “Caring for Kids: Go Vote” campaign next year.

        “Child care is costly when it's good, and so terrible when it's bad,” she says. “We literally pay more, on average, for someone to watch our cars than for someone to watch our children. That's wrong.

        “One of the reasons I wanted to come to Lifetime was that we could literally make a difference in people's lives. There aren't many networks, or television services, that can take an advocacy position and be as strong as Lifetime can be. Whether they can, or can't, they don't.

        “As my grandmother would say: If you do good, you'll do well.”

        Thanks to the Over-the-Rhine candy-makers who raised her, she has remained “pretty grounded,” unaffected by 15 years of Hollywood glitz, glamour and gold chains. Lifetime Vice President Meredith Wagner says her boss is “very much an Ohio girl, so down to earth.”

        “I come from a background that's more about who you are, then what you have. I'm so glad I grew up in Cincinnati,” Ms. Black says.

        “My grandparents came from the old country, and both of them said America as the greatest country on earth, that the opportunity was there if you worked hard enough. And I found out that's true.”


        TOP CABLE NETWORKS

        1. TBS Superstation, 77 million households

        2. Discovery Channel, 76.4 million

        3. ESPN, 76.2 million

        4. USA Network,75.8 million

        5. C-SPAN, 75.7 million

        6. TNT, 75.6 million

        7. Fox Family Channel, 74 million

        8. TNN, 73.9 million

        9. Lifetime, 73.4 million

10. (tie) A&E, CNN, 73 million

        12. Weather Channel, 72 million

        13. QVC, 70.1 million

        14. Learning Channel, 70 million

        15. MTV, 69.4 million

        16. American Movie Classics, 69 million

        17. CNBC, 68 million

        18. Nickelodeon, 67 million

        19. VH1, 65.6 million

        20. ESPN2, 64.5 million

        Source: National Cable Television Association, April-May 1999

       

John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. Write him at 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, 45202.