With the launch of Oprah Mobile, the daytime TV queen appears to be laying the groundwork for a bigger push into digital media in advance of the debut of the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) on cable TV next year.
The new mobile application, optimized for the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Palm Pre phones, offers a window into Oprah's media empire -- including clips and previews from "The Oprah Winfrey Show," weekly polls, articles and photos from O, The Oprah Magazine and Oprah.com, and her Twitter updates.
Released by Winfrey's Harpo Studios, the Oprah Mobile app sells for $1.99 in the App Store. A spokesperson for the studio said Monday the app may extend to OWN, though it's not yet decided. But that seems like a pretty good bet, given the increased emphasis her forthcoming cable channel will place on digital distribution. At a conference last month, Robert Tercek, president of digital media for OWN, said the project will build new media into programming from the ground up.
He also noted that OWN would carry over the core of a digital audience from past efforts like periodic live Web broadcasts of "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Oprah Mobile would seem to fit that strategy to help cultivate a wider digital audience via smartphone users, which are estimated to make up as much as a quarter of all U.S. mobile subscribers.
Down the road, it's not hard to envision a comparable Oprah app for the iPad to showcase her various properties and extend live programming and interactive features, including m-commerce, to mobile devices. Tercek last month waxed enthusiastic about the Apple tablet, pointing out the advantage it has over any competing gadget because it comes with the ability to run existing iPhone apps (which would now include Oprah Mobile).
Tercek will have to make sure Oprah doesn't get too out in front of her audience -- which he acknowledged isn't exactly the early-adopter crowd -- in embracing new mobile and digital tools. No need to worry about impressing Apple fanboys. Offering Oprah Mobile for free instead of charging might've been a good way to start, for instance, but the new cable network's creators will have to test different approaches and learn as they roll out Oprah 2.0.