by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse University – Scholarship in Action
I’m not sure if this is the right time to pass judgment on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), since it just began. But Alexis Stodghill at AOL Black Voices, the New York Times and others are beginning to wonder if the magic is going to last. According to the Times:
OWN, her two-month-old channel, is attracting fewer viewers than the obscure channel it replaced, Discovery Health. At any given time this month, there have been about 135,000 people watching OWN, according to the Nielsen Company, and only about 45,000 of those people are women ages 25 to 54, the demographic that the channel is focusing on.
Those ratings levels, down about 10 percent from Discovery Health’s levels last year, are being carefully watched by people who would like to rebuild cable channels around other celebrities, and by investors who worry that OWN is a drag on Discovery’s stock.
I fully expect that at some point, Oprah’s presence on the network will draw viewers. There is no reason to think that she won’t have an impact. At the same time, even the best product won’t sell if it is in an obscure location. Oprah is not a commodity that would be deemed irreplaceable, so we cannot underemphasize the impact her previous network (ABC) had on her ability to pull in the viewers. It’s one thing to have a great show, and another thing to be able to tell the world all about it.
Another problem that the network may have is that they can’t feature all-Oprah, all the time. The fans that have come to love Oprah and everything she says may not be so interested in seeing the other folks on her network. At the same time, there is no King/Queen-maker like Oprah Winfrey, who has produced Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Suzie Orman, and many other household names over the years. She even made Barack Obama into a somebody.
I don’t expect Oprah’s new network to fail, but what must be remembered is that there are varying measures of success for a network. Most importantly will be whether or not Oprah’s team makes a strong enough profit to satisfy shareholders. It’s entirely unrealistic to expect that they will have the same size audience that Oprah had on network television, but even if Oprah’s power shrinks, it will be the size of the company’s profit margin that makes all the difference.