Will Adding Color to OWN Help Save Oprah’s Channel?

December 12, 2011  |  

by Charing Ball

Well, it looks like Oprah Winfrey may have found the secret to save her struggling network: Black people. That’s right, according to published reports the retired Queen of Daytime Talk is banking on the Red, Black and Green cavalry to swoop in and help stabilize ratings at OWN (also known as the Oprah Winfrey Network), until all of her real viewers return again. Well at least that’s how it sounds. I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time: UPN, WB, FOX and a few other stations all got their starts of the backs of black viewership without officially being a black station, right?

Nevertheless, the switch in aim of target markets will be would be a dramatic shift from the brand image which Oprah built OWN upon. According to published reports, it is a shift that Oprah and company are a little uncertain about – mainly because of the fear that it might alienate her more diverse audience, and by diverse I mean white folks.

Currently, the station’s programming features shows with Oprah’s Friends including Rose O’Donnell, Dr. Phil and Suze Orman. For the most part, those shows have been lacking. However, none of these friends have been heavy hitters as the station’s ratings have been fledging, averaging about 287,000 a week. And despite all the money that’s been poured into the channel, as well as highly publicized restart a couple of months ago, viewership among the station’s target market, women over 25, has also fallen 20 percent each week since the debut.

Of course, it’s not all bad for the Big O. One of the hottest shows to premier on her station has been “Welcome to Sweetie Pies,” a reality show about a black family running a soul food restaurant in St. Louis. Since its premier in October, Sweetie Pies has not only attracted but maintained a sizable audience, thus giving OWN a new lease on life and possible saving grace.

Well Duh, I mean it’s not like folks haven’t been screaming to the raptures about Oprah’s lack of soul on the channel. Even Sheila Johnson, BET co-founder and self-proclaimed Oprah-gal pal, once said in an interview that OWN needed more Black people: “You know, we love the Dr. Phils. We love the Suze Ormans. Let’s open up. There are other people. And there’s also African-American experts out there that I think she should start bringing on her show that can reach even a wider audience.” It certainly seems like common sense, so why did Oprah wait so long?

Well, the short answer is that the people, who mostly made her show number one for almost 20 years weren’t just people of color. The general viewing audience for the Oprah Winfrey Show was generally women but women from all ends of the color and age spectrum, who tuned in to not only see a positive black woman on screen, which would probably be the draw for her black viewers but also the show topics, which was the draw for her more “diverse” audiences. The ability to strike this balance enabled Oprah and more importantly, her brand, to creep into virtually every nook and cranny of our homes and hearts with such universal, yet depressingly entertaining topics as incest, domestic abuse, sexuality, addiction and the word N-Word.

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