What Do Women Want From the Internet?

What do women want from the internet? Well, it’s not all diet tips and money management, according to Dan Surratt, the executive vice president of digital media for Lifetime Networks. “If I tell them to cut their credit card in half and get on a bike, that’s not what they’re going to us for,” Mr. Surratt said this afternoon. He was speaking at a New York Television Festival panel discussion titled “Reaching Women on the Web” at New World Stages on West 50th Street. “They really come to us to escape, to ‘check out’ for 20 minutes,” Mr. Surratt continued. He explained that MyLifetime.com wanted to expand their web offerings beyond their current main sections on the site, including Style, Home & Crafts, Astrology and others, but adding Health & Fitness and Finance categories generated dismal site hits. “They fell on their faces,” he said.

It’s digital day at the NYTV fest and there were mostly women in the audience that the panel discussion. The theater was only about a quarter full. Another theater that had a panel discussion about writing for comics and video games was about half full.

What seems to work for women, according to the panelists, are family-oriented sites with added features like games (for that essential escape element) and supplements to regular TV programming with elaborate story lines. Since women have such incredibly busy lives these days, according to the panelists, they want to take something away from their web experience, whether it’s a moment of relaxation or learning something new, like about breast cancer through a soap opera or some fluffy gossip.

According to a study cited by the New York Times, sites geared toward women, “from ‘mommy blogs’ to makeup and fashion sites," grew 35 percent last year — faster than every other category on the Web except politics.

But maybe it’s not all about make-up and diapers. At the panel discussion, Mindy Spire, director of sales development at World Wrestling Entertainment (for real), said the WWE site traffic is 44 percent female. That’s almost half! But that’s because the WWE site isn’t just clips of grossly muscled men with bad facial hair throwing each other around a ring (although that might be appealing to some ladies…). There’s social networking on the site, where ladies can actually contribute to the wrestlers’ storylines. There’s an online pop culture gossip show called “Dirt Show” that draws many views from women. The WWE sites are also family friendly, which allows them to surf it without feeling guilty around their kids. “The WWE storylines are filled with drama, romance, fantasy, similar to a soap opera,” Ms. Spire explained.

Speaking of soap operas, Brian Cahill, senior vice president and managing director of TeleNext Media, Inc., runs web presence for Guiding Light and As the World Turns. He said soap opera addiction used to spread from grandmothers to mothers to their daughters, and they could learn about the storylines and characters through their relatives. “That doesn’t happen anymore,” Mr. Cahill said. So the purpose of soap opera sites is to get viewers caught up with the twisty story lines. Who can keep up with how many people have died, come back from the dead and then married their rapist these days anyhow? They’ve also found that putting the TV shows on the web helps viewers stay on top of things, so they don’t abandon the show if they miss something.

As far as games go….. Rebecca Raphael, managing editor of RachelRayShow.com, said women are the fastest growing sector of people playing video games online. Why? “Because they need to take 20 minutes before they face the pressure of life,” Ms. Raphael explained.

We wonder how the discussion would’ve been different with slightly younger media panelists. What about asking Yahoo! or iVillage.com or, ugh, the Jezebel girls about their success with women? According to this BusinessWeek article, young women are much more active on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace than young men. And men above 30—especially married men—aren’t even joining social networks, though married women are. Young women also spend much more time decorating their social network profile pages and making slide shows, according to the article, which is probably driving hits (and ad revenue).

Joni Evans, chief executive of wowOwow, told the New York Times that women thrive on sharing anecdotes. “Women love to reach out and talk,” she said. And the web is perfect for that.

What Do Women Want From the Internet?