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Oxygen offers peek at women's site

Oxygen Media gives a first glimpse of its much hyped "converged" entertainment company that targets arguably the Net's most booming audience: women.

Oxygen Media has given a first glimpse of its much hyped "converged" entertainment company that targets arguably the Net's most booming audience: women.

Oxygen's soft-launched Web site mainly is a hub for several properties the media company bought from America Online--including Moms Online, Thrive, and Electra--that pull in 57 million page views per month and focus on personal finance, careers, health, and relationships.

The site is expected to relaunch in the fall. Company executives were not immediately available to comment.

So far, Oxygen Oxygen: Women at center of convergence isn't straying far from the existing women's online genre. But by next year, the site will have a sister 24-hour cable channel, putting into full swing Oxygen's strategy to build an interactive "converged" TV-Net content network.

Many "old" media companies are plotting to cash in on either convergence or female consumers--or both. A snapshot of the market shows NBC lining up behind iVillage, and Cosmopolitan and Redbook publisher Hearst's new media arm merged with in January. Time Warner also is mulling a cable TV channel to compete with Oxygen.

Oxygen, for one, is building its arsenal with some of the biggest names in entertainment, alongside Net veterans, to develop content that will send its TV viewers to the Web and vice versa.

The mastermind behind Oxygen is Geraldine Laybourne, who was president of Disney-ABC cable networks and Nickelodeon. Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Entertainment Group also is a partner, as are Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner, and Caryn Mandabach, the creators of TV hits such as the Cosby Show and Roseanne.

Aside from the former AOL properties and Winfrey's site, Oxygen's first round features a chat area with a lineup of famous guests, as well as its "ask O2" search engine, which like Ask Jeeves lets users ask real questions and then directs them down various paths for results.

Oxygen's Ladies Room includes a message board area and tips and columns by a handful of women who cut across a spectrum of age and racial lines. The site also has a channel called The Lab, a place to experiment with electronic media to create poetry, for example.

Eventually Oxygen online will include more tools for personalization and investments, among other things, according to past interviews with the company.

Despite Oxygen's solid talent backing, the women's space is likely due for a shakeup, at least when it comes to investments and promotional partnerships.

For instance, America Online has a stake in both Oxygen and iVillage, and the online service will be a doorway to both sites. Slightly more than half of AOL's users are women, according to the company.

AOL generates a significant portion of iVillage's traffic, according to the site's last quarterly report with the Securities Exchange Commission, but iVillage's contract for placement within AOL ends in December 2000. iVillage mentioned AOL's diverse investments as a potential threat to its future.

"The relationship between AOL and Oxygen Media, and other Internet companies, may result in potential conflicts of interest for AOL, which may not be resolved in [iVillage's] favor," the March 31 filing states.