by R. Asmerom
All eyes have been on Oprah since she left her legendary talk show to launch a new cable channel which embodied the brand that she’s cultivated over 25 years, and it’s certainly been a rocky start for her OWN network. Or, at least, that’s what the news media has been so consistently communicating since OWN’s original CEO, Christina Norman, was fired last May over low ratings and Oprah took the helm.
Nearly a year later, and within the past month, OWN has cut 20 percent of its staff and cancelled The Rosie Show, which garnered 200,000 viewers a night in its short lived stint on the air.
It all seems dismal from the outside, for those reading the barrage of headlines reporting on what seems to be OWN’s imminent failure. But what may seem like doom, maybe just simple growing pains, says Keith Clinkscales of Shadow MediaWorks.
“If you look at the ratings of Oprah’s channel against comparable women’s channels at their same age of birth so to speak – Bravo, Oxygen, possibly WE – you’re going to see comparable ratings but because there is an O in there, the expectation and demand is a little bit higher.”
Although Norman was fired due to ratings and was criticized for not balancing the positive, uplifting programming with more entertaining programming that would attract a wider audience, Winfrey has yet to turn things around under her leadership. In an interview with CBS’ The Early Show, Winfrey admitted that she didn’t expect the immense challenges that came with her new career. “The idea of creating a network was something that I wanted to do. Had I known that it was this difficult, I might have done something else,”she said. “I didn’t think it was going to be easy, but if I knew then what I know now, I might have made different choices.”
What Winfrey’s challenging journey affirms, however, is not that she can’t make a successful network happen but that launching a cable network is one hard business, according to Clinkscales. “I think Oprah is going to be fine,” he said. “Oprah will find a way to deliver her brand of quality in a format that works with her network. The thing to keep in mind is that she has 75 million homes with this network, and they have their bumps and their grinds.”
With OWN continuing to tweak and re-arrange their content offerings in hopes of finding a profitable path, Winfrey’s experience in cable is sure to lend insight onto the plans of Sean Combs aka Diddy and Magic Johnson who both announced the launch of cable networks through the Comcast Diversity Program. Comcast Corp. agreed to bring more ownership diversity to its channel offerings when it merged with NBC in 2011.