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Oxygen inhales $100 million in funding

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's Vulcan Ventures breathes a $100 million investment into Oxygen Media, the struggling online network for women.

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Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's Vulcan Ventures has breathed a $100 million investment into Oxygen Media, the struggling online network for women, the companies said Monday.

Oxygen, based in New York, said it will use the funding to develop new online, cable and other programming initiatives and services to better serve its audience.

Like a number of online content companies, Oxygen--backed by television celebrity Oprah Winfrey--has faced a series of challenges. The upstart in July laid off a handful of its then 120 employees for financial reasons, at the same time it put two shows on hiatus.

In June, Oxygen discontinued direct retail sales from Womenshands, a site for female artisans to sell their wares, after recognizing the high costs and expertise needed to run a retail outfit. At the time, the privately held company also folded style site Picky into its shopping information service, Shop O2.

Start-up publishers and online content companies like Oxygen have launched free Web sites, hoping to draw large audiences and nab big advertising dollars. But many have found it difficult to stand out in a crowded field.

Oxygen rival Women.com Networks, for one, also has confronted challenges juggling online content and retail operations. Women.com earlier this year abruptly closed its online store for women's clothing and accessories for financial reasons. The e-tail site had been up for only three months.

Oxygen's latest funding marks the second investment that Allen has made in the company through his Vulcan Ventures. Last June, the investment company took a $100 million minority stake in Oxygen at a time when a number of for-women-only programming sites were flourishing.

Allen, a highly regarded investor, has also recently pumped money into cash-strapped Priceline.com, the popular name-your-price Web service for airline tickets and other travel needs.