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Year in Cable 2013: Bravo, Oxygen Boss Talks Ratings Hits, How They Inform Networks’ Futures

Frances Berwick on what she’s learned from this year’s accomplishments

NBCUniversal’s cable properties went through several shifts this year. As Esquire Network replaced Style, Bravo president Frances Berwick’s responsibilities expanded to include the Oxygen Network.

As 2013 comes to a close, both Bravo and Oxygen experienced year-over-year growth under Berwick. “We had a good number of shows that did very well,” she told TheWrap.

Bravo is celebrating its eighth consecutive year of growth among its target demographic, adults 18-49, and in total viewers. It’s also ranked No. 10 among ad-supported cable channels for that key demo.

Also read: Bravo, Oxygen President Sets New Senior Management Team

Among the successes were the freshman summer series, “Below Deck,” about the crew of a luxury charter yacht, and “Newlyweds: The First Year,” which followed couples through their first anniversary. The shows earned 1.7 and 1.3 million total viewers, respectively, and Bravo renewed both shows for second seasons.

“It actually surprised us with how well [‘Below Deck’] did,” Berwick said. “We thought it was a nice summer series and it really performed very well. I think people liked that tension between the crew and the rich people on the yacht.”

Bravo’s biggest programming boon needs no real introduction. Its “Real Housewives” franchise makes sure of that. Once believed unstoppable, its canceled D.C. and ratings-challenged Miami offshoots have proven that there are chinks in the armor.

Also read: Is Bravo’s ‘Real Housewives of Miami’ a Colossal Fail?

“There is still very much interest in the show,” Berwick pointed out. “I think we are constantly focused on keeping each of the casts relevant and fun, with new stories each season. We do that with a variety of different mechanisms.”

Atlanta remains its most-watched series. The current sixth season averages 3.8 million viewers, 2.2 million of them in the network’s key demo.

Wilford Harewood/Bravo

Wilford Harewood/Bravo

“I think that’s about the composition of the characters on the show,” Berwick said. “We love the cast. We kept that one intact from the prior season. On some of the other casts, including some of the upcoming ones and Beverly Hills which is up now, we changed it up a bit. We’re very focused on relatable women who are also aspirational.”

Also read: ‘Real Housewives of Atlanta’ Mama Joyce Rampage Earns Season-High Ratings (Video)

The network also got some return on its investment in its “Million Dollar Listing” franchise. The Los Angeles show’s sixth season was up 11 percent in the key demo and 29 percent among total viewers over its previous season. The newer New York series’ second season was up 30 percent in the key demo and 23 percent in total viewers. Bravo recently announced that it will be expanding the franchise to Miami.

“You can say that it’s impacted by the state of the real estate market to a certain extent, but we’ve had Los Angeles on the air for six seasons,” Berwick said. “Then, New York came back very strong in its second season. It’s the combination of real estate porn and then the drama of these realtors fighting for the same clients, sellers, and buyers on the same turf. So, there’s an organic tension there.”

Other shows performing well for Bravo include “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” spinoff, “Vanderpump Rules,” and “Married to Medicine,” about women in the Atlanta medical community, including doctors and doctors’ wives.

Also read: ‘The Glee Project’ Canceled by Oxygen

While Bravo is easily one of the most recognizable brands in unscripted television, Oxygen — which originally counted Oprah Winfrey as one of its founders back in 1998 – hasn’t found its identity to the same extent. NBCU purchased Oxygen in 2007, and Berwick said there’s work to do to define the Oxygen brand.

Tim Brown/Oxygen

Tim Brown/Oxygen

That doesn’t mean Oxygen doesn’t have its hits. “Preachers of L.A.” became Oxygen’s most-watched freshman series in the network’s history, averaging 1.03 million viewers and 644,000 viewers in the Adults 25-54 demo.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of success this year recently with ‘Preachers of L.A.,’ really an out-of-the-gate huge hit for us,” the network’s president explained. “We were building that audience for five weeks in a row and really those characters resonated with our viewers. I think that’s the foundation of where we can go. We’re definitely appealing to young women.”

Also read: Bravo’s Andy Cohen Stepping Down From Executive Role for New On-Air Deal

Also resonating with Oxygen viewers this past year were its long-running “Bad Girls” franchise, “My Big Fat Revenge,” and Naomi Campbell‘s modeling competition, “The Face.”

The network is targeting women in the 18-34 and 18-49 demos. Currently, Oxygen has the youngest median female audience in primetime by about eight years at 36.8 years old. Berwick also hopes for a more upscale audience.

Also read: Bravo Promotes Christy Dees to Vice President of Development (Exclusive)

“I can’t go into the specifics of that yet, but it will absolutely be focused on young women,” she said. “And that’s a particular demographic that’s arguably underserved right now. Really, there’s nobody else catering to that audience. These millennials have a different mindset from any of the generations before them. They’re certainly very different from Gen X and Gen Y. I think there’s definitely an opportunity there.”

Both networks have found success in the digital space, as well, with viewers and advertisers. BravoTV.com saw a 13 percent increase in average unique visitors year-over-year through November. That makes it on pace for its best year ever in average monthly desktop and tablet unique visitors. For mobile web users, Bravo saw a 9 percent increase in average unique users over last year.

Also read: ‘Real Housewives of New Jersey’ Star Caroline Manzo Lands Bravo Spinoff Pilot (Exclusive)

As for its Bravo Now mobile Now app, the network saw an astounding 99 percent increase over last year.

Oxygen has its highest year ever in terms of full episode video streams, with 13.5 million streams for 2013 to date.

In 2013, Bravo added 87 new advertisers, with more than five percent growth in national ad revenue over last year. On the digital side, revenue grew more than 16 percent with the addition of 24 new advertisers. Oxygen nabbed 39 new advertisers and 27 new digital advertisers in 2013.