iOS app Android app More

Oprah Winfrey Network Greenlights Four New Unscripted Series, Courts Advertisers

First Posted: 04/05/2012 10:57 am EDT Updated: 06/05/2012 6:12 am EDT


* Winfrey pitches to advertisers on Thursday

* Uplifting menu has not lured mass audiences

* Network touts "momentum" after recent ratings boost

By Lisa Richwine and Ronald Grover

LOS ANGELES, April 5 (Reuters) - Oprah Winfrey appears in New York on Thursday before her most important audience: potential advertisers who will decide how many more seasons her struggling cable network has to promote her mantra to "live your best life."

The "queen of talk," having admitted in a CBS interview this week to "101 mistakes" in launching the Oprah Winfrey Network last year, must convince the media buyers who will crowd Lincoln Center that her formula of uplifting programs will attract more viewers than it did in its first year.

So far, her mix of interviews and feel-good programs has left the key audience of 25- to 54-year-old women less than thrilled. Ratings among them for the 15-month-old OWN are about what they were for the Discovery Health channel it replaced.

Last month, OWN, a joint venture with Discovery Communications, laid off 30 staff and canceled its heavily hyped Rosie O'Donnell talk show that it had hoped would provide a ratings boost.

OWN's stumbles have struck the network to its operational core. The aspirational message that fueled Winfrey's hugely successful syndicated daytime talk show for 25 years is not translating to a mass audience for the 24-hour cable channel.

"On cable, the networks that work are far from aspirational," Brad Adgate, an analyst at advertising agency Horizon Media said, pointing to shows such as "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" or the "Real Housewives" series.

"It has been difficult for aspirational shows (and) networks to get on track," he said.

OWN did see a recent ratings boost as Winfrey added more air time. At the end of March, the network reported a 21 percent ratings increase for the first quarter compared with last year, with an average of 180,000 daily viewers.

The network's most-watched recent programs were Winfrey's interviews with Whitney Houston's family, Lady Gaga, rocker Steven Tyler and mega-church pastor Joel Osteen.

But few of OWN's other programs have built audiences. Over the past year, the network averaged 50,000 viewers among women ages 25 to 54, slightly less than the 51,000 Discovery Health averaged in its last year, according to Nielsen data provided by Horizon Media.

Those numbers were less than the 98,000 women ages 25 to 54 who watched the male-skewing Spike TV, or the 69,000 who watched the Travel Channel during the same time period.

"This is a network that has some good momentum behind it," OWN President Erik Logan said, p reviewing his pitch to ad buyers. The channel will stick with the uplifting menu, he said, and will offer up Winfrey's recent interviews plus Saturday night programming such as "Welcome to Sweetie Pie's" as shows that reflect her philosophy.

"As with any cable start-up, it is going to take time" to build audiences, Logan said.

Winfrey has said launching the network too early was one of her "101 mistakes." She committed to working hard to fix the network.


SUBSCRIBER FEES

In addition to its advertising revenue, OWN will collect subscriber fees from cable and satellite distributors of about 20 cents per subscriber per month, starting next year.

The company also just renewed a distribution agreement with Comcast Corp, which will add OWN to 3 million more homes. Overall, the network will be available in 83 million homes nationwide, the same as competitor Bravo.

"We are trying to find the right combination of content and intention and entertainment, and strike the right balance," Logan said.

Some industry experts believe Oprah Winfrey's network will come out of its ratings doldrums. "There is a trial and error in cable programming," said Jeff Gaspin, former chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment and cable industry veteran. "OWN went through theirs while everyone was watching."

Oprah will have competition in the aspirational field.

Basketball great Earvin "Magic" Johnson, for one, plans a network called Aspire aimed at delivering "enlightening, entertaining and positive programming to African-American families." The channel, which launches at the end of June, is a partnership between Comcast and GMC, the former Gospel Music Channel.

"Oprah is a great inspiration but her mistake was naming it the Oprah Winfrey Network," said Brad Siegel, vice chairman of the GMC and Aspire channels. "People were expecting more of Oprah than they got."

Johnson did not want his name on his channel, Siegel said, and instead will put the spotlight on promising African-American artists, writers and musicians with a series of video vignettes.

The harsh reality of TV life is that time may be running short for Oprah to use OWN as the platform from which she trumpets her message. Although Discovery says it has no intention of killing the channel, not everyone thinks OWN will reverse its decline.

"I'm not sure the channel makes it unless it expands its base beyond the aspirational, Oprah-type brand," said Robert Thompson, a professor of TV and popular culture at Syracuse University.

"They need to find their 'Jersey Shore,' the show that will make people come to watch them," he said. "When MTV started doing 'Road Rules,' people at first said, 'where are the music videos?' Now, they have very successfully rebranded themselves."

For now, advertisers are sticking with the doyenne of talk. Early sponsors have reaffirmed their commitment to the network, OWN's Logan said, and General Motors said the company planned to continue advertising on the channel.

"It will take a little more time to achieve the expectations that she initially set," said Andy Donchin, director of national broadcasting for ad-buying agency Carat North America, which has bought time on OWN for its clients. "It's hard to bet against her because almost everything she touched turned to gold."

Loading Slideshow...
  • Oprah In Her Many Guises

    Hanging with Ralph Lauren!

  • Pushing her television network!

  • Chilling in Sun Valley!

  • Having Maria Shriver pay tribute to her!

  • Presenting at the Oscars!

  • Smiling for paparazzi!

  • Sitting on couches!

  • Holding signs!

  • Talking to Australia!

  • On a boat with Russell Crowe!

  • In India!

  • Attending the inaugural graduation at her school in South Africa!

  • Bidding farewell to her talk show with Maya Angelou!

  • Hard at work on OWN!

  • Hanging with Paul McCartney!

  • Arriving with Stedman!

  • Dancing with Curtis Stone!

  • Laughing with Toni Morrison!

  • Hanging with Gayle and Julia Roberts!

  • Celebrating the 10th anniversary of 'O Magazine'!

  • Hanging with Oscar de la Renta!

  • Presenting at the Academy Awards

  • Hanging with Tyler Perry!

  • Chatting with Michelle Obama!

  • Broadcasting live from New York!

  • Special Screening Of Walt Disney Pictures' The Odd Life Of Timothy Green Hosted By Scott Sanders

    NEW YORK - JUNE 27: Oprah Winfrey and actor Hugh Jackman attended a special screening of Walt Disney Pictures' new film 'The Odd Life of Timothy Green' hosted by producer Scott Sanders at the Crosby Street Hotel on June 27, 2012 in New York City. The film opens in theatres nationwide on August 15th. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Walt Disney Studios)

  • 2012 Spelman College Commencement

    COLLEGE PARK, GA - MAY 20: Oprah Winfrey attends the Spelman College Commencement at Georgia International Convention Center on May 20, 2012 in College Park, Georgia. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images)

  • Lance Armstrong, Oprah Winfrey

    FILE - In this Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, file photo provided by Harpo Studios Inc., talk show host Oprah Winfrey, right, interviews Lance Armstrong during taping for the show "Oprah and Lance Armstrong: The Worldwide Exclusive" in Austin, Texas. Armstrong confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France cycling during the interview that aired Thursday, Jan. 17, reversing more than a decade of denial. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Harpo Studios, Inc., George Burns, File)

  • US-CYCLING-ARMSTRONG-APOLOGY

    A photo illustration shows a man watching a TV showing disgraced cycling star Lance Armstrong being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey on January 17, 2013 in Kensington, Maryland. Armstrong said in the interview that he was 'sorry' for taking performance-enhancing drugs during his career and that it was a mistake. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-CYCLING-ARMSTRONG-OPRAH

    A photo illustration shows a woman as she watches the CBS morning show featuring TV presenter Oprah Winfrey talking about her interview with the cyclist Lance Armstrong, Washington DC, January 15, 2013. 'I didn't get all the questions asked, but I think the most important questions and the answers that people around the world have been waiting to hear were answered,' she said on CBS 'This Morning.' 'I can only say I was satisfied by the answers.' Armstrong, who has consistently denied drug-taking, on Monday recorded a two-and-a-half hour interview with Winfrey in his hometown Austin, Texas. AFP PHOTO/MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A Conversation With David Letterman And Oprah Winfrey

    MUNCIE, IN - NOVEMBER 26: David Letterman (R) and Oprah Winfrey attend 'A Conversation With David Letterman And Oprah Winfrey' at Ball State University on November 26, 2012 in Muncie, Indiana. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/Getty Images)

  • A Conversation With David Letterman And Oprah Winfrey

    MUNCIE, IN - NOVEMBER 26: David Letterman (R) and Oprah Winfrey attend 'A Conversation With David Letterman And Oprah Winfrey' at Ball State University on November 26, 2012 in Muncie, Indiana. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/Getty Images)

  • TIME's Screening Of Lincoln And Q & A With Steven Spielberg And Daniel-Day Lewis

    NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 25: Oprah Winfrey and CEO of TIME Inc. Laura Lang attend the TIME's screening of Lincoln and Q & A on October 25, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for TIME)

  • TIME's Screening Of Lincoln And Q & A With Steven Spielberg And Daniel-Day Lewis

    NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 25: Oprah Winfrey and Bill O'Reilly attend the TIME's screening of Lincoln and Q & A on October 25, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for TIME)

  • TIME's Screening Of Lincoln And Q & A With Steven Spielberg And Daniel-Day Lewis

    NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 25: Charlie Rose and Oprah Winfrey attend the TIME's screening of Lincoln and Q & A on October 25, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for TIME)

  • TIME's Screening Of Lincoln And Q & A With Steven Spielberg And Daniel-Day Lewis

    NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 25: Neil deGrasse Tyson and Oprah Winfrey attend the TIME's screening of Lincoln and Q & A on October 25, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for TIME)

  • OW interviews Rihanna in Barbados

    This Aug. 4, 2012 image released by Harpo Productions shows singer Rihanna, left, with Oprah Winfrey during an interview for "Oprah’s Next Chapter" in Barbados. The interview, in which Rihanna speaks about her relationship with Chris Brown, will air on Sunday, Aug. 19 at 9p.m. EST on OWN. (AP Photo/Harpo Productions, George Burns)

  • OW interviews Rihanna in Barbados

    This Aug. 4, 2012 image released by Harpo Productions shows singer Rihanna, left, with Oprah Winfrey during an interview for "Oprah’s Next Chapter" at Rihanna's home in Barbados. The interview, in which Rihanna speaks about her relationship with Chris Brown, will air on Sunday, Aug. 19 at 9p.m. EST on OWN. (AP Photo/Harpo Productions, George Burns)

  • Maya Angelou, Alicia Keys, Oprah Winfrey

    FILE - This May 17, 2011 file photo shows singer Alicia Keys, left, and Oprah Winfrey during a taping of "Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular," in Chicago. Keys announced Tuesday, July 10, 2012 that her organization Keep a Child Alive will pay homage to Winfrey at its Black Ball event on Nov. 1. Winfrey's humanitarian efforts include the building of schools in South Africa. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, file)

  • Special Screening Of Walt Disney Pictures' The Odd Life Of Timothy Green Hosted By Scott Sanders

    NEW YORK - JUNE 27: Oprah Winfrey and actor Hugh Jackman attended a special screening of Walt Disney Pictures' new film 'The Odd Life of Timothy Green' hosted by producer Scott Sanders at the Crosby Street Hotel on June 27, 2012 in New York City. The film opens in theatres nationwide on August 15th. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Walt Disney Studios)

  • In this image released by CBS, Oprah Winfrey, left, appears on "CBS This Morning," with co-hosts Gayle King and Charlie Rose, right, Monday, April 2, 2012 in New York. Winfrey says she still has faith in her troubled cable network. Appearing on the morning show, Winfrey told King that she believes the Oprah Winfrey Network will fulfill its mission of transforming viewers' lives. But if viewers don't respond, Winfrey says: “I will move on to the next thing.” OWN has struggled to build an audience since its launch in January 2011. (AP Photo/CBS, Heather Wines)

  • In this undated image from video released by Harpo, Inc., host Oprah Winfrey, left, embraces Bobbi Kristina, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston during an interview in Atlanta, Ga. The exclusive interview will be shown on "Oprah's Next Chapter," on the OWN network, Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 9:00 p.m. EST. (AP Photo/Harpo, Inc.)

FOLLOW HUFFPOST MEDIA

Filed by Rebecca Shapiro  |