Just as the media industry has evolved, Tanya Lopez evolved from twenty years as an agent -- packaging and pitching high wattage stars for ICM -- to helping Lifetime morph into a more meaningful programming destination for an evolved world of women. After taking care of clients, and then her three sons, she’s spent the past ten years helping the network engage with women as Executive Vice President, Movies, Limited Series & Original Movie Acquisitions for Lifetime and LMN. She recently talked with MediaVillage about her method for “recapturing women’s hearts” and eyes.
E.B. Moss: Lifetime's mission is described as “recapturing women's hearts.” What does that mean?
Tanya Lopez: There was a time where everybody said, "We should be more inclusive and get the broadest audience we can." The truth is, in today's landscape it's really hard to appeal to everyone. You could barely appeal to every woman. We watch programming depending on our emotional state right then. I may say, "I'm going to go home and watch a drama," and turn around and decide to watch somebody cook a chicken! It depends on how you’re feeling in the moment. So, to serve our audience the best, giving them an emotional experience with content that’s iconic to our brand -- like our movies -- that’s how we recapture women's hearts.
Moss: How do you program for emotional need states?
Lopez: The [emotion and the] relatability is really important. But, women also want to learn from what they're watching and walk away saying, "Hmm, I didn't know that." We do that with bio-pics on figures like Olympic gymnast Simone Biles. Or on Harry and Meghan, which, my goodness, how much more could you have not known? Yet we were able to dramatize and reveal new nuggets in our film.
Moss: As the TV landscape itself is evolving, is your focus shifting from linear to digital?
Lopez: Of course, linear remains very important to us. Getting anything to break through the clutter is incredibly challenging, but there are very few competitors that put out the special kind of movie content that we put out. We absolutely embrace social and love to create short-form content, but it's also about how we look at our movies and brand them throughout the year. We're creating much more of a destination for our viewers [with] our acquired and original movie premieres, about 70 movies this year alone! We don’t just promote to this movie, promote to that movie -- we look at them as parts of an overarching theme and strategically program based on those themes. That lets you look at our movie content -- as a viewer, or as an advertiser -- and say "Oh, this is what I can expect." And that separates us from our competitors.
Moss: Can you give me an example of any themes?
Lopez: We’ve had some great hits like Beaches [the remake with Idina Menzel and Nia Long] and Cocaine Godmother: The Griselda Blanco Story [starring Catherine Zeta-Jones] that live under our "Music and Bio-Pics” umbrella. There is the "Faith and Inspirational" bucket which doesn't have to just be religious; it could be movies that resonate because they’re aspirational as well as inspirational, like I Am Elizabeth Smart or Faith Under Fire: The Antoinette Tuff Story [starring Toni Braxton]. "Ripped from the Headlines" is an obvious theme for us, with movies based on what we learned through the media, but they have more insights and feel different in a cinematic way. And of course, there’s “Summer Escapes” and "It's a Wonderful Lifetime,” a franchise that returns every year.
Moss: How are you rolling this strategy out?
Lopez: We have five big tent poles that started this summer with “Summer Escapes” and we’ll finish out the year with “It’s a Wonderful Lifetime.” It will continue through 2019 with “Music,” “Faith” and “Headlines.” Each have movies with bigger talent and bigger concepts supported with a dozen that are sort of mid-range budgets, and then 30 that are slightly lower budget than those.
As an example, with “Faith and Inspiration,” we're doing a big concept movie about two country music legends, I can’t say who just yet, and next to that we're doing a movie about gospel singing with a big star, whom I can’t mention either. Then we'll do about five other movies that may not have the big names attached but that have that faith and inspiration element.
We are also back in the business of making movies from popular literary series. In 2019 we will be shooting titles from Jane Green.
Moss: Can you describe the business opportunities, using “It's a Wonderful Lifetime”as an example? You have around 19 movies in that theme along with some innovative packaging around them, like influencer vignettes?
Lopez: The vignettes tie things together and interstitial entertainment ensures Lifetime fans aren’t coming just for the movie but all the surrounding shoulder programming. They love the Christmas movies and the linear elements, but the digital and social content keeps them engaged. I know that’s important to our sales and marketing teams. Content blocks let them speak or market to one theme, which helps get the audience excited about what’s coming and adds clarity to the sales process, too.
Moss: Will similar sponsorship elements be offered for the different themed buckets?
Lopez: Peter Olsen [Executive Vice President, Ad Sales, A+E Networks] called this "the gold standard" of how they want to go to market, and that’s why we’re applying it to other big tentpoles. He told me the singular theme across linear, digital and social gives advertisers that always on, 360 multi-platform opportunity. It lets Peter’s team plan farther out, and they can offer advertisers a whole theme versus one title at a time.
Moss: Is there any one movie that really resonated with you emotionally?
Lopez: We did one on the toxic water crisis in Flint, Michigan [starring Queen Latifah], a crisis that’s still there after all these years. These women felt no one was going to listen to them as they saw their children getting out of their baths with rashes and getting cancer. We met these women when we screened the movie in Flint. They said to me: "Thank you for doing this movie. We don't know if it's going to make a difference, but we just want to remind people that we are still here and it's still not over."
I love stories that make me stop and say, "Pay attention to this, Tanya." I'm really proud that we're back to taking on issues that are really important -- like our breast cancer initiative -- and screening these movies in Washington or other communities and saying, "Let's talk about this stuff." When you turn around as a viewer and you go, "Wow, I haven't thought about it like that," those are exactly the stories that we like to tell.
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