How Oprah’s OWN Has Turned Things Around

Oct 5, 2012  •  Post A Comment

With the numbers in for the third quarter, the situation at OWN has improved dramatically from a year ago. OWN’s prime-time average in total viewers was up 55% for the quarter (314,000 average vs. 203,000 in 2011), with an even bigger improvement — 58% — in the target demo of women 25-54 (109,000 vs. 69,000).

The increases are even greater in total-day numbers: up 72% in total viewers (199,000 vs. 116,000 in 2011) and 71% in women 25-54 (72,000 vs. 42,000).

TV writer Tim Molloy writes in TheWrap.com: “After a rocky start marked by low ratings, executive shakeups, and layoffs, Oprah Winfrey’s network is getting some good news. Its latest quarter, from July to September, was its biggest in ratings growth. And this week, the network announced it will air two shows next year from Tyler Perry, who has a special talent for tapping into once-overlooked audiences. The shows will be the first scripted programs for the network.

“Strikingly, OWN is hitting ratings highs without resorting to programming lows. Networks from Bravo to Oxygen have resorted to trashy reality shows about feuding ‘Bridezillas,’ ‘Bad Girls’ and ‘Real Housewives’ to juice ratings. OWN has pledged not to go that route and has so far kept its vow.”

Said OWN Co-President Erik Logan: "We’ve been in the pivot, we’re turning, and there’s a lot of points of view about where in the turn you are. We certainly welcome the conversation about, ‘Are you in the beginning part of the turn? Are you out of the turn?’ I think that’s a much better place to be than we were twelve months ago."

And it was only about six months ago, Molloy notes, that OWN laid off 30 staffers and SNL Kagan predicted OWN would lose $143 million in 2012. The research company, Molloy writes, is standing by that forecast.

“But the analyst who provided it, Derek Baine, said in an interview that OWN does appear to be making progress,” the piece adds.

Said Baine: "There’s still a lot of work to be done, but I think they’re definitely making a lot of improvements. Oprah herself is paying a lot more attention. I think you’ll see steady improvement, but I think it will still take a couple of years, probably, to get to where they wanted to be as a network."

Logan says the SNL Kagan loss estimate is high, and he expects OWN to reach a break-even point from a cash-flow standpoint in late 2013.

Additionally, OWN appears to have climbed out of the shadow of the channel it replaced, Discovery Health.

“In the latest quarter, OWN has not only dramatically improved on its Nielsen ratings year-over-year, but topped Discovery Health’s ratings for the same period in 2010,” Molloy writes.

OWN ranks No. 32 among cable networks in women 25-54, on a par with female-oriented networks WEtv and Oxygen, Molloy notes.

“Winfrey was an investor in Oxygen, but later resigned from its board of directors, telling the Baltimore Sun it did not reflect her voice,” Molloy writes. “Perry presumably will. To the frequent bafflement of critics, the actor/writer/director has produced one box office success after another, as well three successful sitcoms on TBS. He has succeeded in large part by appealing to churchy African-American women — a group that overlaps nicely with Winfrey’s audience, but has been largely ignored by Hollywood.”

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