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       Hillary Carlip

on creating The Voxxy Network

interview by Douglas Eby

Its name Voxxy comes from 'vox' (Latin for 'voice') plus the 'XX' symbol for the female chromosome, reflecting the mission of the new network to "give teen girls a voice."

Founders of the venture include a number of women with strong entertainment experience, including Kristi Kaylor, a former MTV producer; Maxine Lapiduss, a television producer/writer ("Roseanne," "Ellen"); Nancy Josephson, co-president of talent agency ICM, and Nely Galan, president of Galan Entertainment.

Additional backers and consultants include Billie Jean King; producer Francine LeFrak; Connie Tavel, CEO of Tavel Entertainment; Caroline Rhea (star of "Sabrina, The Teenage Witch''); Michael Gelman, Executive Producer of "Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee''; Steeplechase Media CEO Larry Namer, also a cofounder of E! Entertainment; and other people.

One of the founders is Hillary Carlip, author of "Girl Power: Young Women Speak Out." A reviewer of Carlip's book, Marie Wilson of the Ms. Foundation for Women, called it "an extraordinary collection of writing by teenage girls from every part of American Society."

That diversity is one of the hallmarks of the network's mission. Company executives have expressed feeling frustrated and concerned with the notable lack of that kind of voice in more traditional entertainment.

Carlip, for example, says "It feels like such a small percentage of girls are really represented in any kind of realistic way, especially on television, and it's really important to us to reach out and to get to girls of all different backgrounds and perspectives."

Referring to some of the other current TV and internet programs for women and girls, Kristi Kaylor has commented, "Our shows are more edgy and provocative. Everyone's not perfect. They're not a size two. They're cowgirls, prom queens, ravers, riot grrls, sorority girls, and our programming is designed to appeal to them".

She also notes the company is making production deals "with professional people at the top of their game, people who get it."

Entertainment celebrities are also aligning with the venture, one of the most prominent being actress Jennifer Aniston (TV series "Friends"), who is producing and hosting a series, and reportedly also getting an equity stake in the company.

Maxine Lapiduss says of Aniston, "Her agenda is to reach girls. She is conscious of wanting girls to be able to talk, to express themselves in a way she wasn't able to. It is a huge driving force." Aniston has commented, "The media has such a powerful influence on young girls. There is a tendency to place celebrities on pedestals leaving young girls pressured to live up to unrealistic expectations.

"Voxxy will provide a platform that cuts through the hype and will allow me to speak honestly with teens about anything from self-image and social politics to family and friends.''

In addition to Aniston's series, scheduled programs include an animated teen soap opera, and a Spanish-English teen-oriented sitcom.

Carlip talks more about programming, available initially on the website (Voxxy.com), using technology such as streaming media: "What we're doing on the site is going to be very much like an enhanced, interactive television experience. It's not like we're going to be a magazine with horoscopes and dating tips. There are a lot of teen sites that do that, and do it very well, but that's just not what we're doing."

She emphasizes the range of media outlets they will be using: "To us, a screen's a screen, so if you're watching your television or your computer, you'll basically be getting the same full screen entertainment."

One of the future directions will be a cable channel, "but there are so many things we're doing along the way," Carlip says. "It's not first and foremost."

With respect to delivering rich media content on a website, Carlip says, "We're really aware of the issues and limitations of streaming media, and we are working with some technologies so no matter what speed modem you have, you're going to have an amazing experience. It may be a slide show full of a lot of movement and streaming audio; it may be full-screen flash. We're really designing for all the different limitations and speeds that people can access it."

The "next play" medium after the website will likely be set-top boxes, now becoming more available. One of the advantages of programming for this technology, Carlip notes, is that "anyone can access it, who has the box. We don't have to go get our own cable channel; you just access the internet. Also, we're making a lot of deals with celebrities and so on who are tied exclusively to television shows; but if someone is accessing them through the computer, it's a different thing. I'm sure it will cause a lot of trouble down the line, but it's the future."

Programming for high level access is a good strategy, she notes, "because there are a lot of colleges that use broadband, so even now a lot of people have high speed access, and it pretty much looks like television."

She adds that her existing Girl Power site will be part of the Voxxy banner, "and we will be doing some print publications that come out of that. But in terms of a magazine or catalog or something like that, that's really not in our plan. We're doing shows, we're doing television. We have an animated, 'angst-y' soap opera. We have a music show that will also feature new bands, and have homemade, do it yourself videos. We have a quirky twist on a dating show."

Another program area of strong interest is sports and extreme sports for girls. "Our only concern is that it is being done a lot, so we want to find a really unique spin on it," Carlip says. "We know girls like it, which is why it's being done so much, but we don't want to do just another extreme sports show."

Over a thousand girls are involved in Teen Girl Advisory Boards to help Voxxy develop ideas, and the company is also putting together a think tank of high achiever teen girls who have "really made a difference in the world."

Jackie Nadel, a member of a local board that meets at the Voxxy offices in Southern California, notes the group recently had a meeting that was taped by CNN. "We got to sound off on a bunch of different topics," she says. A high school student, Jackie is sixteen and wants the network to represent a diverse spectrum of girls: "Usually you only see a lot of white people, and middle class, and I want girls from every socioeconomic standing, from every ethnicity, have a voice and be represented."

She says Voxxy is casting girls in shows as regular people, "not just 'the African American neighbor across the street.' There will be girls in dramatic productions, in sitcoms, interviews, interactive game shows and every single aspect of Voxxy."

Nadel agrees that other girls want to hear about issues and women in career areas that are not well covered in mainstream media. "A lot of the mentality that drives girls away from the sciences or politics is the fact that it isn't really stressed that there are role models out there: women who have pursued these fields and done well," she says.

"So many girls who think it's something they want to do, they don't know where to look or where to go, and if the opportunity were given to them, probably many more girls would pursue careers in those fields." She notes one of the Voxxy programs is pairing up a a girl with a mentor in a field she's interested in.

"So it gives us a chance to get right in there and see what something is like," Nadel explains. "And say a girl is interested in being a molecular biologist, if she's paired up with a mentor, she may realize that, although it's interesting, it might not be for her. It's better to know that now, rather than go through all this studying in college."

Nadel is also enthusiastic about other planned Voxxy content. "In addition to helping foster diversity, I'm really excited about this element that Hillary told me about," she says. They're taking over her Girl Power website, and planning on hooking up authors; a different author each week will present writing exercises, and girls who do the exercises and write in, will get feedback from the author on how they can improve."

She notes there will also be opportunities for girls to publish their own short stories and poems."

Carlip agrees ecommerce will be an important aspect. "Girls love to shop," she notes. "Everything will be a transactional opportunity, without throwing it in their faces: 'Buy this!' Anything that you're watching on the show, you can click on: the clothes, makeup. We're going to suggest books that connect to each show; we're going to have soundtracks for the shows, so they'll be able to get CDs. The business model for Voxxy is very much a television model, with a lot of advertisers being interested, especially in our celebs.

"Jennifer [Aniston], for instance, has never sold anything, she's never advertised. And you know how huge she is. So advertisers have been coming to us. We also made a deal with the phone company to offer Voxxy phone service cheaper, and phone cards. Anything that would interest a girl. We're finding ways to create new models, too."


   [article originally developed for Profit magazine]

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