Summary:

Project Runway, the competition-reality show that launched a genre on Bravo, is flipping houses — unless NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) gets a co…

imageProject Runway, the competition-reality show that launched a genre on Bravo, is flipping houses — unless NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) gets a court to back up its claim to the show. The Weinstein Company and Lifetime announced a deal today to move the show to the women’s net for five years, starting with its sixth season this November, complete with supermodel host Heidi Klum and fashion guru Tom Gunn. (Klum is the one who kisses off losing contestants with “auf wiedersehen.”)

It’s a major blow to NBCU, where Project Runway is the heart of its Bravo reality competition slate including Top Chef, Shear Genius, and Top Design. NBCU claims it had first refusal and filed suit today in New York state court. Weinstein Company lawyer David Boies: “We believe that this lawsuit is without merit. While good for the market for lawyers, it is always unfortunate when parties try to win in court what they have lost in the marketplace.” Meanwhile, Project Runway is auditioning now for its last scheduled run on Bravo, season 5.

Online repercussions: So why does this matter online? It’s simple: the reality competition shows drive traffic and attract passionate, engaged fans. In NBCU’s case, Project Runway and other top BravoTV shows are important to its planned womens ad net strategy as well as synergies with other properties like iVillage and Todayshow.com. As for metrics, when I first posted this I made the mistake of using lifetimetv.com for comparison when I should have used the relaunched version MyLifetime.com. (Thanks to Dan Suratt at Lifetime for the heads up) That comparison shows Lifetime and Bravo on much the same trajectory , with the larger network, Lifetime, showing much higher visitor numbers since November 2007. On the other hand, Compete.com also shows a gap in the number of page views per visit and in time spent on site, with Bravo higher.

NYT: “Even if NBC had retained the rights to the show, it was surely going to move off Bravo anyway. In initial talks with the Weinstein Company, one condition was that ‘Project Runway’ would have to move to a larger network. NBC Universal had promised to do so, moving it either to the USA cable network, or perhaps even its broadcast network, NBC.”

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