For 25 years, Oprah had a golden touch, as she built her syndicated talk show into a powerhouse that in some television seasons averaged an incredible 12.5 million viewers a day, viewers from all over the world.
But on May 25th, 2011 Oprah ended that show, one that reportedly paid her $275 million a year, to focus on OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), a joint venture with Discovery Network, for she saw this as the opportunity of a lifetime.
But as we all do, Oprah made some mistakes. Perhaps the biggest of those mistakes was to start OWN in January, 2011 nearly six months before ending her syndicated talk show. As a result she was unable to concentrate on OWN, which got off to a dismal start in the ratings.
As of last summer, her partner Discovery had lost $312 million on that investment, losses which have continued since then. Some media investors and critics have suggested that Discovery will pull the plug on OWN, rather than hemorrhage any more red ink.
But after acknowledging her mistakes, Oprah is focused on creating programming that will attract a large audience, including “Oprah’s Next Chapter,” and “Super Soul Sunday.” And recently OWN announced six more new shows to go on its network this year, including two by successful movie maker Tyler Perry.
Already, the positive results of Oprah’s efforts are starting to show. For the year ended December 16th, 2012, OWN’s weekly average total audience was 328,000 viewers according to the Nielsen ratings, a 28% increase from the prior year. This is an increase of 91,840 viewers!
However, those numbers are still small compared with two other networks focused on women. Bravo averages 900,000 viewers and Lifetime averages over one million viewers. But Bravo and Lifetime have been on television far longer than OWN.
Yet despite OWN’s progress, there are still many skeptics that don’t believe OWN will succeed. I disagree and would point out it takes time and patience to build a network or any other business and OWN after a weak start is making good progress.
And there is more good news. This year, satellite and cable operators will begin to pay millions of dollars in broadcast fees to carry OWN. If the ratings continue to grow, so will the advertising and broadcast fees.
But the key reason I believe OWN will succeed is Oprah and her excellent team.
But especially my bet is on Oprah, because since she was born in brutally segregated Mississippi in January of1954, time and again she has overcome incredible odds in being black and in being a woman to achieve all that she has.
If she succeeds in what is her greatest challenge yet, she will open more media doors for women and for people of every color. And as a philanthropist, she will have the additional resources to be of even greater good; adding to all she has already done for the poor and disposed.