Geraldine Laybourne

Geraldine Laybourne Biography.com

Business Leader(1947–)
One of the most powerful women in television, executive Geraldine Laybourne founded the women's programming network Oxygen Media.

Synopsis

Born in New Jersey in 1947, executive Geraldine Laybourne became one of the most powerful women in television. After serving as president of Disney/ABC cable networks, Laybourne left to found the women's programming network Oxygen Media.

Early Life

Business professional, media executive. Geraldine Laybourne was born on May 19, 1947 and is known as one of the most powerful women in television. She left her high-profile job in 1998 as head of Disney/ABC Cable Networks after only two years to launch an experiment in television and Internet programming for women called Oxygen Media.

Born in Martinsville, New Jersey, Geraldine Laybourne later studied art history at Vassar College and elementary education at the University of Pennsylvania. She met her husband Kit Laybourne when he was a senior at Wesleyan College, but it wasn't until five years later that they ran into each other again. Six months later, they married.

Foray into Television

In 1979, Kit convinced her to start a children's television production company with him. Armed with little work experience other than teaching, she gamely helped launch Early Bird Productions. The company peddled an animated pilot to obscure cable network Nickelodeon, owned by MTV.

In 1980, future America Online (AOL) president Bob Pittman, then head of MTV, hired Geraldine Laybourne and over the next 16 years, she masterminded unconventional children's programs, including Rugrats, The Secret World of Alex Mac, and Pepper Ann. Her innovative programming approach, which made a point of talking to children as equals, built the tiny cable network, which had only five employees in 1980, into an $8 billion business.

Oxygen

Laybourne left Nickelodeon in 1996 to become president of Disney/ABC Cable Networks, driving the growth of the Disney Channel, Lifetime, A&E, and The History Channel. But she felt stifled by the corporate structure at Disney, and found her job description left little room to explore her growing interest in online ventures. In 1998, she left to create Oxygen Media, dedicated to cable and Internet programming for women. To launch the venture, Laybourne partnered with TV powerhouses Oprah Winfrey and Carsey-Werner Productions (producers of hits including The Cosby Show and Roseanne). She also purchased three women-oriented online services from her former MTV boss Pittman.

On February 2, 2000 (a date which plays off the chemical compound of oxygen -- O2/O2), the Oxygen Network premiered to 10 million subscribers. Currently, the cable channel boasts 55 hours of original programming a week, which includes its flagship show Pure Oxygen (an assortment of news, entertainment, and lifestyle segments) and Exhale (a nightly talk show hosted by Candice Bergen).

Laybourne envisions a future world of media consumption where lines between television and the Internet blur thanks to digital cameras, cable modems, streaming video, and other technologies. Her unusual choice to launch both Internet programming and cable programming simultaneously -- rather than tacking on Web sites to established programs -- challenged both purely Internet companies like iVillage, which also targeted women online, and established cable networks like Lifetime.

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