Accuracy in Media

After what can only be described as a disappointing first year for her OWN channel, Oprah Winfrey is hoping to give the network a much needed boost this year.

OWN, which launched with great fanfare one year ago, is a joint venture between Discovery Communications and Oprah Winfrey’s HARPO , Inc., backed with $250 million of Discovery’s money.

Discovery, banking on big ratings, dropped its low-rated Discovery Health channel to make room for OWN, but is still waiting for a payoff.

The results for 2011 showed an 8% drop in overall audience from Discovery Health, though the key A25-54 demo showed an 8% rise, which is good for advertisers, but still far short of Discovery’s expectations.

OWN had some executive turmoil in 2011 with the departure of CEO Christine Norman just five months after its launch, for which Winfrey tried to put on a happy face.

“I want to thank Christina for her important accomplishments, incredible passion and many sacrifices in helping to launch the network. With the final taping of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” only a few weeks away, I will soon be able to devote my full energies to OWN. This is a natural point of transition, and I am confident that Peter, as an integral part of the launch of OWN, will be a terrific partner for me going forward. He is one of the smartest, most creative executives in media, and I look forward to his leadership as we build our development slate and work toward the launch of OPRAH’S NEXT CHAPTER. Over the remainder of the year, Peter and I will work together to recruit a permanent CEO for OWN’s next phase of growth.”

Important accomplishments? The channel struggled to get better ratings than Discovery Health, which wasn’t exactly a ratings juggernaut.

Winfrey recently talked frankly with the Associated Press about the channel’s first-year struggles and what she plans to do to remedy the situation.

She attributes the channel’s rough start to a more basic error: The lack of a “library” of programming for the many hours of airtime not filled by original shows, compounded by overconfidence about her market value in general.

“I don’t understand what anybody was thinking. You’re going on the air, you’ve got four shows. What do you think you’re going to do by Tuesday? Did they think people were going to turn on the channel just because it had my name on it?” she said, sounding almost eager to cast doubt on her drawing power.

“People didn’t turn on ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ because my name was on it. It was absolutely topic driven every day,” she said.

Maybe Winfrey is trying to be modest here, but the truth is that Discovery didn’t invest $250 million in a channel just to slap Oprah’s name on it, but not have her actually on the air in a significant fashion. This was clearly an attempt to leverage the Oprah brand and make money by doing so.

According to the Associated Press, Discovery is taking the long view and sees this as a three to five year investment, but with Winfrey’s increased involvement it is obvious that this is really the make or break year.

If things don’t improve, by this time next year Discovery could decide to dis-OWN the channel.





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