Oprah Winfrey’s OWN launched in 2011 but ended the year as an official failure. The media icon and network executives remain hopeful for 2012, but will the network be scrapped?
The end of 2011 may be a relief for Oprah Winfrey as it was a very disappointing year for her OWN network. A joint venture between Winfrey’s Harpo and Discovery, OWN replaced Discovery Health in an attempt to attract a wider, more profitable audience. Its release in early 2011 marked a notable career achievement for the iconic television host. Discovery, whose brands include TLC and Animal Planet, invested $250 million into the 24-hour network, according to the Associated Press. Ratings still failed to meet forecasts with only 136,000 daily viewers over the course of the year.
Larry Gerbrandt, an analyst with Media Valuation Partners, explained the rationale behind the expectation of OWN’s immediate success. “With the Oprah brand name, with all the work they did leading into the launch of the network, the hope and expectation was that they would be on a much faster track than usual.”
OWN premiered back on Jan. 1, 2011 to strong viewership with an average of 505,000 viewers. Unfortunately, one month later ratings plummeted to an average of just 135,000 with only 30 percent of those viewers in the targeted demographic of women ages 25 to 54. In an attempt to revamp the already struggling network, in March 2011 Discovery executive Peter Liguori replaced Christina Norman as CEO. In July 2011, Oprah took over as CEO and COO.
NPR spoke with a former OWN fan, Diana Montas, who expressed her disappointment in the network. “I watched a couple of things, but not as often, now it’s like, all over the place, and it’s not as focused as her own show.”
President of OWN, Erik Logan, admits short-term success may not be possible for the network. “This is a very long journey. I think that if you look at any successful cable network it’s taken years for them to find their programming rhythm. It’s taken years for them to establish themselves. And Oprah’s the first to say, ‘We’re still learning.’ ”
Oprah is candid about OWN’s dismal performance. She spoke to the Associated Press recently and was honest yet optimistic about the future. “Yes, some mistakes were made. Who hasn’t made mistakes? The beauty is you can say, ‘I learned from that.’ I don’t worry about failure. I worry about, ‘Did I do all I could do?’ ”
The Associated Press also reports Oprah is committed to the success of OWN despite initial setbacks. “Somebody was talking to me in that kind of saddened, ‘How are you?’ tone and I was thinking, ‘I’m fine.’ I realized the reason people have this tone is they’re reading all the press [about OWN], so you see me and wonder if I can still walk. I am a determined and committed woman. I don’t give up, I’m just getting started.”