OWN The Good And The Bad, Then Move Ahead

In the space of four months, the Oprah Winfrey Network: OWN has had three different executives running the network. Robin Schwartz lasted 10 months; Christina Norman, four months (she was just let go); and now veteran Peter Liguori has taken OWN over -- on a interim basis, maybe longer.

In 1992, Oprah Winfrey talked about starting a cable network. She and companion Stedman Graham supposedly said that was a good idea considering "the state of trash TV". Of course, anyone with syndie talk memory knows that some original episodes of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" syndicated series in the late '80s dipped into this pool of content.

Okay, give Winfrey and all her producers credit for moving into life-affirming programming. Her syndicated show offered "positive" life-affirming TV -- and still got big ratings.  Applaud and bow, for all of us are not so worthy.



But for a network, the question is how to stretch the soup. OWN can't simply extrapolate the one-hour themes from the syndicated show to content across 24 hours of programming a day. That's a lot of ratings points to fill. Perhaps some focus is needed. Maybe three to four hours a day -- perhaps late afternoon/primetime -- needs to shine first.  As with anything on cable, one hit can change a network's life.

All this needs to compete with a broad palate of other programming on cable -- "Keeping up with the Kardashians," "Jersey Shore," NFL games, "Burn Notice," "Pawn Stars," "Hot in Cleveland," "Top Chef," and Bill O'Reilly, for example.

Life-affirming shows should be able to squeeze into this eclectic mix of content. But it had better be real good -- perhaps with a strong personality. Know anyone?

With all their media choices, consumers don't always have a lot of time to decide. So a quick mention of an Oprah Winfrey network probably yields this response:  "I want to see a lot of Oprah Winfrey." Life-affirming stuff here? Sure. But -- up until now -- it has been Winfrey herself who has needed to deliver this in some form. She has my attention and complete trust.

The question is how to transfer this to other personalities and shows. Hey, if ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" can play in this field, there must be room for more.

OWN is barely getting the ratings of the network it took over from: Discovery Health. That's not good considering some $250 million has been invested in the network so far. OWN is a partnership of Discovery Communications and Harpo Studios.

OWN has been on the air four months; that isn't a long time. No matter. There are a lot of nervous executives on the channel's board of directors. Better still, are advertisers squirming? The executive change comes just before the big upfront advertising market. Perhaps a message is being sent.

Liguori says there needs to be more "joy" at OWN in terms of programming sentiment. That would seem to suggest there currently exists a good hunk of sadness and melancholy.  OWN needs to own the ups and downs before it moves on.

3 comments about "OWN The Good And The Bad, Then Move Ahead ".
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  1. Kate Lafrance from Hartford Woman Online Magazine, May 9, 2011 at 1:27 p.m.

    I have found myself watching the OWN mostly by accident. I'll be channel surfing and come across a former female country music star from the '80's and go "Wow THAT's what she looks like now???" and get sucked in for an hour or so. The network seems to be specializing in "whatever happened to" stories. This is more successful in a "Behind the Music" type format - within the confines of an obvious format that has a universal theme while changing the players each episode. Several episodes each of "The Judds" and "Shania Twain" stories leave this viewer confused. Is it a series? It is a mini-series? Is it a documentary? If it gets good ratings can we hope to see it again for another full season? Just how long should I expect this new "show" to be around? How invested can I get in it if it only lasts 2 or 3 episodes? To the point - the network is confusing - always bad when you are trying to make a sale. The channel has a very temporary feeling to it's programing choices and this makes it hard to commit to. I believe it's fixable but it needs someone at the helm with confidence and vision. The frequent turnover at the top makes me think that Oprah is either too involved or not involved enough in her network. The lack of long term commitment to shows reflects a level of insecurity and uncertainty among the management that needs to change.

  2. Catherine Maino from Mosaic, Innovations in Marketing, May 9, 2011 at 3:11 p.m.

    I have certainly watched Oprah over the years and enjoyed doing so. I'm not an Oprah "groupie" but I believe she does a lot of great things and has a passionate fan base. For that reason I have checked out the OWN network and didn't see the draw? Most often when I switch over the are OLD movies on or something I have no interest in at all! I'm wondering when she will get some consistency to the format? From and agency stand-point I wouldn't place a lot of value in placement for our clients. It will take some time for, even the huge fans to become regular watchers. That is unless they watch the station 24/7? I don't have that kind of time.

  3. Dawn Hicks, May 10, 2011 at 2:49 p.m.

    I have been studying OWN for the last several weeks as I'm very interested in the network and would like to see it do well. I've always enjoyed Oprah's passion and outlook on life. I applauded her switch to "change your life" tv and marveled as the rest of the world jumped on board. So while I like OWN and believe that there is definitely something to the network, it's truth and honesty are very Oprah, I have to say after a while I have to turn the channel to be uplifted ... it's missing the one thing that we have loved about Oprah ... sheer, unadulterated joy! Once they find how to incorporate that I think they'll be on to something!

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