It’s Crunch Time For OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey's cable channel OWN has been having a tough go of it. The cabler, a partnership between Discovery Communications and Winfrey's Harpo Studios has generated one depressing headline after another, as related to OWN's failure to catch on in the ratings.

There have been a few bright spots, however. Winfrey's recent 90-minute special with the family of the late Whitney Houston was a Nielsen smash, proving there is still a market for Winfrey's brand of sister-friend, in depth, exclusive interviews. A couple of OWN's reality series, Welcome to Sweetie Pie's and Our America With Lisa Ling, have also proven successful. That being said, OWN has yet to create a true breakout hit, and with Discovery having already spent reportedly well over $250 million on the channel, the clock she is a' ticking.

On the heels of cancelling Rosie, a low-rated daily talk show starring controversial funny lady Rosie O'Donnell, came news this week that OWN was laying off 30 employees in a restructuring effort.

" A lot of people left really good jobs to go work for OWN," says one television insider. "Oprah has a responsibility to make this channel a success, not just for herself, but for all of the people who are counting on her."

From the beginning, there has been a call for more of Winfrey's presence on OWN, yet even programs like Oprah's Lifeclass, where the TV titan repurposes old episodes from her wildy popular syndicated talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, to highlight "teaching moments" haven't drawn significant audiences.

"With the way things are in the world right now, the economy being messed up and people being out of work, not everyone wants to be educated by the television when they sit down in front of it," says one veteran cable exec. "Sometimes people just want to be entertained."   

To that end, OWN is bringing back the popular Welcome to Sweetie Pie's, a sassy docudrama about the family of former Ike and Tina Turner background singer Robbie Montgomery and her family restaurant in St. Louis. Welcome to Sweetie Pie's has helped OWN make a strong showing in black households. Last November the series ranked No. 2 in its time period among black women aged 25-54 and ranked No. 5 in primetime overall out of 95 ad-supported networks for African-American women aged 25-54.

Sweeti Pie's will serve as a lead-in for Beverly's Full House, a new OWN docudrama starring Beverly Johnson, the world's first black supermodel and her extended family. Will it all be enough to keep OWN afloat? Only time (and the Nielsens) can tell, but we're still rooting for the Mighty O.

Welcome to Sweetie Pie's returns March 31 at 9/8C. Beverly's Full House premieres the same night at 10/9C.

13 Responses

  1. Profile photo of sodsince16

    I thought that OWN would be right up my alley as a viewer but I am disappointed.

    The “spiritual” shows are depressingly one sided. A variety of different sources saying exactly the same thing about spirituality. All of them suggesting a key Oprah doctrine that if you want something bad enough and you have faith then it will come true. As opposed to a spiritual view of gratitude for our existence. It is that modern confusion of G-d and Santa Clause that always frustrates me.

    The second chance celebrity shows are equally depressing. From the Judds to the O’Neils, none of the celebs seem to very self aware, and given that they are not the subjects of ridicule that they would be on other networks they are not very entertaining.

    Finally, there’s Rosie. Like many I was a big of Rosie in daytime in the 90’s. However, speaking of a lack of self awareness – Rosie returned thinking that America has been clambering for a her return to daytime. The truth is that her attempt at syndication failed and Oprah’s channel was her only hope of a return. I saw the writing on the wall from the beginning. Rosie idolized Oprah falsely just as she had done with Barbra Walters on the View. However, like a spoiled child she choose to change everything about the Oprah staff as opposed to using their expertise to create a new show. Rosie is naturally not a very good listener which makes her a poor interviewer. She was never able to converse based on what the subject said. It appeared that she relayed too heavily on notes or what she already new about the subject, instead of giving us something new.

    OWN should learn from daytime. Returning vets alone do not attract viewers. We want something newer and fresher. My favorite OWN show was a cooking show from Canada that reviewed cookbooks for home chefs (Anna and Christina), and even that seems to have gone away.

    However, let’s remember the Oprah said that she has three years to create the vision. Let’s hope she learns from the lessons of year one.

  2. Profile photo of goyankees

    I’ve been an “OWN Viewer” since the beginning..(San’s that shew Rosie and the lesser shows I listed @ the bottom)… here’s my thoughts –

    First and Foremost, her BEST SHOW was the reality show that followed O and her (FANTASTIC!) team of producers, etc. as they showed us the behind the scenes goings on of her Daytime Show. (“Oprah, Behind the Scenes” was what it was aptly named) That show was just AWESOME. Every Sunday night. What a great team she had on her Daytime Talk Show…

    ‘Course, that show ended because…well….

    Her show where we revisit her old talk show episode’s and Oprah’s talking to ‘us’ about what’s she’s learned (Again; aptly named LIFE CLASS) would be her second best show on her network.

    See the trend? PEOPLE STILL WANT OPRAH.

    She Left when she was still On Top.

    OPRAH HAS TO GIVE US OPRAH. She may want to scale things back, but if she wants to have a succesful network, for the first few years at least, she needs to be it’s Face. Not just it’s Name.

    I don’t know why she’s airing re-run shows like Dr. Phil? Or airing shows that (I don’t believe) are even her’s like “Undercover Boss” ???? The message I GET is that OWN doesn’t have an identity. They don’t even realize the identity is bigger than President of the United States! USE IT!

    I learned, ironically enough from OWN what talent there is at Harpo. I can’t, for the life of me figure out WHY some things are going on??

    But I’m willing to make a bet This Beverly Show aint gonna amount to much.

    Cuz it’s not “The Oprah Show”. Sigh.

  3. Profile photo of Camp is not a sustainable model
    Camp is not a sustainable model

    This is more reason why Oprah and Disney should just turn the network into a black themed channel or at least have a significant number of programming catering to African Americans. Oprah would have an instant regular audience and African Americans are screaming for something other than BET to watch. Her attempts at trying to make OWN a general network has not worked. And with calls from African American women saying that they would tune in to the network if she had more programming featuring African Americans, she should just go with it. And since the African American community sees her as the unofficial “Queen” of the community then she/they should focus more on where there is a void and fill it. This would also give Disney a bigger steak-hold in the African American market who spend billions on products and services.

    According to the Nielsen’s they reported that spending for the period October 1, 2006 through September 30, 2007 for African Americans totaled $2.3 billion. And in September 2011 it was stated that African-Americans’ buying power is expected to reach $1.1 trillion by 2015, according to The State of the African-American Consumer Report.

    Here are some of the consumer trend facts from the report:
    Consumer trends in the report include facts such as:

    -With a buying power of nearly $1 trillion annually, if African-Americans were a country, they’d be the 16th largest country in the world.

    -The number of African-American households earning $75,000 or higher grew by almost 64%, a rate close to 12% greater than the change in the overall population’s earning between 2000 and 2009. This continued growth in affluence, social influence and household income will continue to impact the community’s economic power.

    -African-Americans make more shopping trips than all other groups, but spend less money per trip. African-Americans in higher income brackets, also spend 300% more in higher-end retail grocers more than any other high income household.

    -There were 23.9 million active African-American Internet users in July 2011 – 76% of whom visited a social networking/blog site.

    -33% of all African-Americans own a smartphone.

    -African-Americans use more than double the amount of mobile phone voice minutes compared to Whites – 1,298 minutes a month vs. 606.

    -The percentage of African-Americans attending college or earning a degree has increased to 44% for men and 53% for women.

    Now that is a lot of buying power that is not being tapped in to. So Oprah and Disney should just go after the African American market like no other and redevelop OWN. It is the best business move they could make. And it would yield rewards beyond their wildest dreams if they did so correctly. Now I got ideas and plans on how they could achieve this goal, equipped with a mix of reality TV, original scripted content (dramatic and Comedic Start with airing and seeking developed web series like Anacostica, 12 Steps to Recovery etc… to air on the network.), news, talk programs and some youth orientated programming. And that is where I would begin.

  4. Profile photo of MsAgentProvocateur1

    When I first heard that Oprah was creating OWN on cable, I wondered why she did not go more progressive and partner up with an online entity such as a Google Channel and bring her network totally online.

    Noticing the trends in cable (gradually losing subscribers especially those under 40 yrs old) with the escalating fees, dissatisfaction with the lack of a la carte options and frustrations with disputes between cable carriers and broadcast channels that lead to programming blackouts and don’t even let me get into the effects of the economy!

    I mentioned just last year that I thought it was a mistake for Oprah to stick with a model that will soon be challenged as being outdated in contrast to emerging technologies (i.e. The Internet).

    Then last week, I read that Larry King, of all people has decided to partner up with Mexican multi-billionaire Carlos Slim (who some believe may be the wealthiest man on Earth!) to start…Wait for it…an Online TV network. It won’t be susbcriber based, but supported by advertising. Something I imagined Oprah doing when she first announced her plan to start her own Network.

    I like Oprah and she’s entitled to do as she pleases and I don’t like the idea of OWN failing (that would be a Major Failure) but in thinking in traditional terms rather than looking toward a more Forward Thinking Business Model, I think that Oprah has missed an opportunity to continue to change the face of Television.
    It is really a shame.

    P.S.– I personally no longer subscribe to cable (almost 2 years now) and I don’t intend on ever going back.

  5. Profile photo of pjc722

    I am surprised that everyone is surprised that Oprah has not been able to successfully launch her network. Remember she was a major investor of OXYGEN from it’s launch and didn’t like what they were all about after it launched and then pulled her reruns of her talk show once the contract was complete.

    TV networks are a dime a dozen and only those who can successfully figure out what everyone wants, succeed at doing it. The broadcast networks haven’t been able to do that for years now and scream that a show that would have been cancelled 10 years ago with it’s low numbers as a success because across the board no one is watching.

    Broadcast tv need to create series that are well written and tell a great story. Instead of 23 eps, do 12 like True Blood or Game of Thrones. Do well written shows like Downton Abby. Do something other than what’s always been out there.

    As for OWN, Oprah thought we all wanted ADVICE and chatter all day long. But we don’t. We want more than that. We want to be entertained and to forget about our lives for 30 or 60 or even like in the old days of tv 45 minutes. I think Oprah’s channel is just a dull mix of BEEN THERE, DONE THAT tv. Nothing to draw you in unless a STUNT like Kristi Brown talking about Whitney. But that is a one off deal.

    I think Oprah forgot what got her popular. Stay at home moms, moms who work and TiVo her show but also what’s on before and after it half the time. Oprah should have jumped at the chance to take AMC & OLTL to the air on her network and partnered with Prospect or even ABC on it. They could have brought the audience the shows, whether at a reduced nunber of episodes a week (2 for amc and 3 for Oltl) and the audience that was there 2.5 million a week to her network. People would then see promos for other shows and go there.

    I’m not saying those 2 mediocre soaps would be OWNs saviors, but what I am saying is that they would have been the draw the network needed other than OPRAH. OPRAH is a power house for an hour. OPRAH was a power house behind promoting Barack Obama. But that’s about it. She needs diversity on the network. Something that is different from hour to hour.

    Advice and more advice just comes down to that annoying phone call from your mother telling you how you did something wrong and this is how to do it right, kind of thing.

    Not too late to start fresh, Ms Winphrey. Pick up a drama or two. DO something great!!

  6. Profile photo of DaytimeFan0001

    OWN has always been something that sounds good on paper. But when it comes to finding a stand out hit on a cabler you have either have a headlining scripted show, which she has made it clear she cannot afford, or a shocking reality show, which she has also made clear she won’t do. OWN is facing a simular problem as NBC, all their good, quality shows that write up to America are not catching eyeballs, but reality tv is. Good luck to her.

  7. Profile photo of pumpkin

    After reading some of the posts about the Oprah’s station, about people not only wanting to be preached to, they also want entertainmeng, I start to wonder that this could be relevant to the networks also. Networks will regret that they are getting rid of the daytime dramas. They won’t get day to day repeat viewers.

  8. Profile photo of MsAgentProvocateur1

    pjc, I’m not surprised at all. I’ve been saying that the old system of cable and the expensive digital cable tier doesn’t appeal to everyone. Perhaps those who have to have their sports channels but studies have shown that most people under 30 don’t even get their programming through traditional broadcast networks– they mainly watch online. And under 40 is another tech savvy group which is increasingly relying on online viewing.

    I have been saying repeatedly from the first time I heard Oprah was starting a network that she should have launched online. If not exclusively, at least have an ad supported companion site and re-run select interviews after they’ve already aired on OWN. But, I still think she should’ve just tried a radical approach and gone fully online. Now Larry King looks progressive and it makes Oprah appear to be a fuddy duddy.

    And Oxygen is EXACTLY why she should have aimed for a completely different approach.

  9. Profile photo of sallyv

    I think part of the problem is that OWN is not on basic cable. A lot of her core audience (older viewers) don’t pay extra for additional cable stations…can’t afford to…so she’s lost all those viewers, including my mom.

    Of course she’s had lousy programming too, so that could be the a big part of the problem.

    I never was an Oprah viewer and personally didn’t care for her over-sized ego, but it’s too bad, especially for her employees, if this doesn’t work.

  10. Profile photo of TheOldSoapster

    Used to watch Oprah now and then … she had a good show.

    But after she couldn’t be bothered to save the ABC soaps, the shows millions of her viewers watched long before her series started, I turned her off for good.

    She ain’t the woman I thought she was.

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