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For women only: Web sites with a feminine bent

Do men and women surf the Web differently? Some people say yes. And now that women account for 50 percent of those online, sites are lining up to serve them.

Yesterday, Oxygen Media became the latest firm to target women -officially launching a Web site and cable-TV channel that it says is "the first online and on-air network for women, by women." Oxygen joins existing women's sites like iVillage.com and Women.com, as well as a cable network for women, Lifetime.

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Oxygen says it is for women "leaning into life" - or as spokeswoman Jeanine Smartt puts it - women who are satisfied with their lives "but looking to charge things up." Like its competitors, Oxygen focuses on money, parenting, health, and relationships. But unlike the others, it has the media equivalent of the Midas touch: Oprah Winfrey.

Partner Oprah will host at least two shows, a Sunday-night series on how to use the Internet called "Oprah Goes Online" and "Oprah &" featuring extensions of interviews from her talk show. The non-Oprah hours include programs on yoga, cooking, an animated prime-time series, and a talk show, "Exhale," hosted by actress Candice Bergen.

In charge of programming is a team well-known to TV - Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner, and Caryn Mandabach -who created "The Cosby Show," "Roseanne," and "Third Rock From the Sun." They are partners along with Oprah and Oxygen founder Geraldine Laybourne, who made the Nickelodeon network for children into a cable success.

Despite the weight being thrown behind the TV network, for the time being the Web site will be the easiest way to take in Oxygen. Since the network is having to worm its way into already crowded cable systems, it will only be available in limited markets, including Seattle, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Chicago (about 10 million homes, compared with about 75 million for Lifetime).

Web competitors say they see plenty of room for the newcomer. "We're really past feeling that it's a niche segment," says Allison Abraham, chief operating officer at iVillage.com, a popular women's site. "The segment is very large."

Like other sites for women, Oxygen.com offers access to a broad range of information through a network of sites. Among those in the Oxygen fold are a health-care site called Thriveonline.com, a site with entertainment reviews by women called Girlson.com, and a parenting site, Moms Online. Much of the content of the sites will be reflected in the TV programming.

The one-stop shopping approach to surfing is what works best for women, according to iVillage.com. Through its members, (all 4.2 million of them), iVillage has learned that women juggling a career and family want a way to cut through all the choices on the Web. They want names they can trust, and don't want to wade through a number of individual sites -something men are more prone to do.

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The result is sites that include everything from baby and car care to election coverage.

Oxygen will likely perfect its site in much the same way iVillage has. It already asked women for their opinions before it launched. Getting the product right will be important, as another women's site is already planning its launch for mid-April. The Working Woman Network will build on the magazines Working Woman and Working Mother.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society


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