Accuracy in Media

Talk-show diva Oprah Winfrey, who launched OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) last year in the cable slot of what used to be the Discovery Health Channel, felt it necessary to apologize after issuing a tweet on Sunday encouraging her followers to tune into her network instead of the Grammys on CBS.

While there is nothing wrong with celebrities trying to get their followers on Twitter to take action or buy a product, Oprah crossed the line when she specifically targeted people who have a Nielsen box, which is used to measure television viewing habits.

Winfrey was trying to promote her new program, “Oprah’s Next Chapter,” on Sunday when she tweeted “Every 1 who can please turn to OWN especially if u have a Neilsen [sic] box” to her nine-million-plus followers. And for good measure she later tweeted, “Commercial Grammy people..u can turn to OWN.”

The latter tweet wasn’t as bad, since it didn’t specifically mention the Nielsen box, but it still smacks of desperation from the former queen of talk who has struggled with almost non-existent ratings and a slew of personnel problems at the network since its debut.

According to ABC News, Nielsen, which has been tracking television audiences since 1950, believes that Winfrey’s tweet may have been a violation of policy that prohibits openly lobbying owners of Nielsen boxes to watch a specific show or network.

Winfrey has since removed the offending tweet at Nielsen’s request, telling The New York Times that she intended “no harm” and apologized for the reference.

As a result of this overt lobbying for viewers, Nielsen will now place an asterisk next to the ratings for “Oprah’s Next Chapter” to reflect what it calls the “possible biasing effect” of her tweet.

Oprah was fighting a losing battle from the start, however, since there are only about 20,000 Nielsen boxes in households across America representing about 50,000 people out of a population of more than 300 million. Thus, the odds that Oprah was going to reach many, if anyone with a box, was pretty slim.

The other strike she had going against her was that she was competing against the Grammys just one day after the death of music legend Whitney Houston. There was just no chance music fans were going to tear themselves away from all the tributes to Houston, along with the regular awards, for some fluffy interview program even if Oprah was the host.

I bet her partners at Discovery Communications are beginning to wonder if they should have just stuck with the health channel.

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